Evaluation: outcomes vs objectives

Sadr2 There’s an interesting snippet in the Week magazine this week about how the USA has almost singlehandedly achieved Iran’s foreign policy objectives more effectively than The Iranian politicians ever could have if they were left to their own devices.  10 years ago they wanted rid of Saddam, they wanted more influence in the region and they wanted to make the USA look like the big bad wolf. It reminded me that too often evaluation is almost always framed in terms of objectives versus outcomes.

The reason Blair and Bush can go on banging on about the effectiveness of The War Against Terrorism (TWAT) is because they are focussing purely on given objectives a) wiping out Al Qaeda b) killing Osama c) getting rid of weapons of mass destruction d) killing Saddam Hussein (judicially as it turns out) Well 1 out of 4 doesn’t look very good but it doesn’t look like total failure either.   On the other hand judged by outcomes the war against terrorism is a disaster.  The campaign has shown a phenomenal ability to create terrorists faster than it wipes them out. It’s hard to think of a more efficient way to promote terrorism than TWAT.  Now we could lobby to change the objectives of the campaign for example to reduce the number of terrorists. The trouble is that this objective would come to be equally flawed.  You have to factor in outcomes. I reflect on this in the light of 150+ civilian deaths in a single day in Baghdad. Which is unacceptable but unstoppable.  The army of occupation was unable to prevent it. There’s no guarantee it isn’t going to happen again.

And if I turned to evaluation closer to the purpose of this blog I would say exactly the same about communication campaigns. Measure outcomes not achievement against objectives.

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