Identify a Set of SMART Communication Objectives

Should an emergency occur, countries will need to develop a set of communication objectives. If countries have explored qualitative and quantitative studies about household behaviors, cultural and social norms that govern behaviors, traditional beliefs, health seeking practices, knowledge about key health information and media habits in advance, and expanded that information base with data about the emergency, then developing these objectives will be fairly straightforward. As indicated previously, communication objectives concisely describe desired changes in the audiences as a result of seeing, hearing, participating in or having heard about a specific SBCC intervention. Behavioral factors that influence these changes include (but are not limited to) knowledge, thoughts, beliefs, feelings or practices. Communication objectives should be developed according to the audiences’ communication needs linked to the emergency and should address the factors most likely to contain the outbreak as determined by the program objectives. Unit 2: Rapid Needs Assessment, Unit 4: Audience Analysis & Segmentation and Unit 5: Audience Profiling can help you develop appropriate, evidence-based communication objectives.

Communication objectives need to be SMART. The acronym SMART, described below, is used to highlight some important criteria that help focus the objective and monitor progress.


S pecific: The objective should clearly define the expected outcome and should answer questions such as who is involved what will be achieved and where. A specific objective will help define activities.

M easurable: The objective should include an indicator of progress and should answer questions such as how often or how much. This will determine whether the objective is achieved.

A ttainable: The expected change defined in the objective should be realistic within the given timeframe and with the available resources.

R elevant: The objective should contribute to achieving the overall program goal. This will support developing activities that are important to the program.

T ime-bound: The objective should include a timeframe for achieving the desired change.


An easy way of developing measurable communication objectives is to ask the following three questions:

  • What do you want your audience to do?
  • When do you want your audience to do it?
  • What is the benefit to the audience if they do what you want them to do?

Examples of SMART objectives are listed in the table below, together with the behavioral factor each aims to influence. The third column of the table provides sample indicators to measure progress towards achieving the objective (discussed later in this Unit).

SMART Communication Objectives with Behavioral Factors and Sample Indicators

Communication ObjectiveBehavioral Factors AddressedExample Indicators
Within the next three months, all households in Community X will know the importance of washing hands with soap to stop the spread of cholera.KnowledgePercentage of households that know about the importance of washing their hands with soap.
Within the next six months, handwashing with soap among households in Community X will have increased from 55% to 95%.BehaviorPercentage of households washing their hands with soap
Within the next six months, all CHWs in Community X will counsel household members on the importance of handwashing with soap to prevent cholera.Service provisionNumber of CHWs trained to counsel household members to practice handwashing in Community X.

To help you establish SMART objectives, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Prioritize behaviors that will have the greatest impact in meeting emergency control and prevention objectives.
  • Use only one action verb in each objective. Using several verbs implies that several activities and/or behaviors are being measured.
  • Be specific about the target population and the behavior or issue being addressed by the objective.
  • Consider that, during an emergency, the availability of products and services necessary to practice the behaviors promoted by the objectives may be affected.
  • Remember that it may be necessary to develop different objectives for each phase of the emergency. Some objectives will therefore have a short timeframe, while others may have a longer one.

Exercise: Assessing Your Communication Objectives

Once you have developed communication objectives, you can use the checklist below and Worksheet 6.1 to assess whether they are SMART and to identify how to improve them.