STAGE 3. Defining the population and objectives

What steps should be completed?

Step 2: Formulate the objectives


Specific objectives are defined in order to know how the general objective can be achieved. They are a concretion of the general objective and specify the personal and contextual changes that will be achieved with the intervention. They must be aligned with the general objective, have a causal structure (have a logical connection between them and the general objective) and contribute significantly to the achievement of the general objective.

The specific objectives and the general objective differ in scope and level of concretion and specificity. While the general objective aims to achieve long-term changes, after achieving changes in the population and the environment, the specific objectives aim to achieve shorter-term changes, usually when the intervention has ended. For example, if the general objective is to "delay the age of onset of tobacco use in a schoolchildren population in city X", the specific objectives should focus on what needs to change in the population and its environment to ensure that, if tobacco use is initiated, this occurs as late as possible.  Thus, the specific objectives could be: "Increase the abilities of students to resist pressures to start smoking" or "Strengthen compliance with the regulations forbidding the sale of tobacco to minors". These examples illustrate the changes that must occur in the population and in the environment, in order to delay the onset age of tobacco use, but do not provide information on how to do so. This would be done by defining the activities included in the intervention. It is quite common to confuse specific objectives with the definition of activities. For example, "applying X teaching units to teach skills to resist social pressure to smoke" shows a possible way to increase young people's ability to resist pressures to smoke, and it would be an activity. In OneStep@aTime the action plan will be made in stage 5. See stage 5

Specific objectives may be directly or indirectly related to drug use. In the example above, both objectives ("Increase the abilities of students to resist pressures to smoke" or "Strengthen compliance with the regulations forbidding the sale of tobacco to minors") are directly related to drug use (tobacco). While "Reduce school absenteeism" would be an example of a specific objective that is indirectly related to drug use.

The following table shows a way to differentiate the type of formulation according to the answer to certain questions. This is an exercise that you may find useful in this OneStep@a ime stage.

If answers to:

You are:

What drug-related situation do you want to change?

What personal determinants need to change in order to change the behaviours of the target population?

What environmental determinants need to change in order to change the behaviours of the target population?

How are personal and environmental determinants going to change?

  • Formulating the actions.

To reduce the complexity of an intervention, it is recommended to limit the number of specific objectives. The aim is to limit as far as possible the changes that are intended to be achieved in the population and in the environment. A rule of thumb is to formulate a maximum of three specific objectives and whenever possible, some referring to personal changes (directly on the population) and others referring to changes in the environment (contextual). Probably, your professional experience in the field of drug demand reduction will help you to know the determinants that should be worked to achieve changes in the population. However, OneStep@aTime recommends that you review the practical implications that can be derived from the theoretical approaches in the area of demand reduction and also the available evidence in this regard, which are discussed in stages 4 see stage 4 and 5 see stage 5, respectively.

If you have follow the OneStep@aTime recommended procedure in developing the general objective, you can use this effort, to review and complete it when defining the specific objectives. First choose those objectives directly and clearly derived from the general objective, prioritize those that you think you can achieve with your intervention, taking into account the resources available and the feasibility of the actions to be implemented. As in the case of the general objective, the following recommendations should be taken into account when formulating the specific objectives+