Did you know that October 15 is Global Handwashing Day? The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) is a global partnership organization based in Geneva, Switzerland that is affiliated with the United Nations. Partners include NGOs, private companies and government agencies. In its mission statement, WSSCC lays out its vision “of a world where everybody has sustained water supply, sanitation and hygiene.” From that mission and vision, the organization has adopted a broad strategy to contribute “substantially to global efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene for vulnerable sections of society, with a special focus on communities in Africa and Asia.”

UNICEF, a key partner with WSSCC in sponsoring Global Handwashing Day, has published a toolkit for handwashing campaign planners, which outlines major goals for handwashing campaigns. These goals are derived from the larger missions of WSSCC and UNICEF and provide the strategic rationale for objectives that determine appropriate tactics. Program planners want to see behavior change. They want more people to wash their hands and to sustain that behavior. This, in turn, leads to the “ultimate goal” of public health impact, including reducing diseases such as respiratory infections and diarrhea.

Specifically, the UNICEF toolkit presents the following goal: “Increase, improve and/or sustain good hand washing behaviour and form good handwashing habits.” This is a great goal! We should all wash our hands more. And it clearly serves the missions of WSSCC, UNICEF, government health ministries, soap companies and any other organization affiliated with Global Handwashing Day. However, campaign planners need more than a well-stated and well-intentioned goal. Success in strategic public relations means being able to demonstrate the results of your work. A goal like this can be achieved by identifying and accomplishing objectives as steps along the way.

SMART objectives

Well-designed objectives are SMART objectives. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Specific

Well-written objectives state exactly what the strategic communicator plans to accomplish in a way that makes the outcome clear to all who see it . A goal to “improve” handwashing behavior is general. It is also debatable. My six-year-old son and I have very different opinions about what counts as good handwashing, and a trained public health worker might have advice for us both! An objective serving the goal of improving handwashing would need to be more specific about what is meant by improvement. Does improved handwashing mean people will wash their hands more often? At specific times? Using more soap? Perhaps all three of these are important outcomes needed to achieve the larger goal. In that case, each would be the basis for a separate specific objective. Multiple objectives may serve each goal.

Measurable

Can the results be observed and measured in a way that shows actual change? A clear objective sets a standard that will define success. This could be the number of times people report washing their hands in a day, the percentage of people who are observed washing their hands before meals or the pounds of soap used in a community center in a month.

Attainable

Although you want to be ambitious in setting objectives, it’s important to be realistic. Research and past experience may guide planners in finding that balance between ambitious and attainable. In a hospital staffed by professional healthcare workers, it might be realistic to aim for 100% participation in an effort to get doctors and nurses to wash their hands thoroughly before contact with patients, but would it be realistic to try to get 100% of children in a remote village to wash their hands three times a day?

Relevant

Do the objectives relate clearly to the goal and mission? An objective to generate a certain number of reblogs on a Tumblr site dedicated to handwashing may be specific, measurable and attainable. But, if your goal is to increase handwashing in specific communities in Africa, you would need to be able to explain how that Tumblr blog is relevant where it matters.

Time-bound

Timing is a critical part of strategy. Setting a deadline for accomplishing an objective adds accountability. It also aids planning, as deadlines for specific objectives become milestones for achieving larger goals in the broader campaign timeline. A goal for a certain percentage of children to wash hands in school in October may be preceded by an objective to guarantee donations of soap to the schools by the start of the school year.

Example objectives in the UNICEF toolkit include the following. Do you think they are SMART?

  • “Increase knowledge about the benefits of handwashing with soap among primary school-aged children in 100 primary schools within one year.”
  • “Increase the number of primary school-aged children that wash hands with soap before eating in 100 primary schools within one year.”

Outputs, outcomes and impacts

In writing goals and objectives it is important to think beyond what you plan to do and to think about what you plan to accomplish. While it makes sense that a strategic plan outlines outputs—tasks completed—a plan without goals and objectives that specify the results of those efforts will fall short on strategy. Output objectives focus on the tangible efforts of public relations such as the number of tweets posted, news releases sent, events sponsored or schools visited by experts. As Professor Ronald Smith puts it in his text Strategic Planning for Public Relations, “…measure outputs if you wish. They can provide useful assessment of what has been done. But don’t stop there.”

Beyond outputs, outcomes identify the results of public relations work. How many people retweeted your tweet? How many news organizations covered the story in your news release? How many schools reported participating in Global Handwashing Day as a result of invitations from health experts? How many students were observed washing their hands?

In the big picture of public relations campaigns and programs, planners may want to account for impact. Impacts are the broadest and furthest reaching results of public relations efforts. They also are the hardest results to attribute to the specific efforts of a particular program. You may never know if your recycling program affects global climate change, but you may be able to at least estimate the amount of energy conserved or landfill space saved. These would be impacts beyond the outcomes of the number of people who report recycling, which may follow the output of distributing recycle bins. Here are samples from the UNICEF handwashing program:

  • Output: Number of door-to-door visits by hygiene promoters to discuss with caregivers the role of handwashing in nurturing children.
  • Outcome: Proportion of primary caregivers who report washing hands with soap and water at two critical times during the day.
  • Impact: Reduced prevalence of illness among children less than five years old living in the household observed.

Photo by Jennifer Su/CC-BY- 2.0