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Establishing a hierarchy of objectives (general, specific and operational)

To develop a coherent set of objectives, you should distinguish three levels: general objectives, specific objectives and operational objectives. You will not always need to consider objectives on all three levels. For example, an IA accompanying a strategy or White Paper may not need to set out operational objectives. On the other hand, the IA of a comitology decision might focus on operational objectives, because general and specific objectives will already have been formulated in the IA for the legislation on which the comitology process is based.

When you define objectives at different levels, there should be clear links between them. Sometimes these relationships are not only vertical (as in a hierarchy of objectives), but also horizontal, when objectives can reinforce but also contradict one another. You should also take account of any external factors outside your policy (and control) that may have favourable or adverse effects on your objectives.

General objectives

  • These are Treaty-based goals which the policy aims to contribute to.
  • They are therefore the link with the existing policy setting.
  • These objectives should induce policy-makers to take account of the full range of existing policies with the same or similar objectives.
  • They relate to impact indicators.

Specific objectives

  • They take account of the envisaged specific domain and particular nature of the policy intervention under consideration.
  • The definition of these objectives is a crucial step in the appraisal as they set out what you want to achieve concretely with the policy intervention.
  • They correspond to result indicators.

Operational objectives

  • These are the objectives defined in terms of the deliverables or objects of actions.
  • These objectives will vary considerably depending on the type of policy examined.
  • They need to have a close link with output indicators.

Given that objectives are closely linked to the other stages of the IA process, you may not be able to define them in one go. Once you have defined the problem, you should be able to establish the general policy objectives which the intervention aims to contribute to. The specific and operational objectives may change during the IA process as you gain more insight into the effectiveness and efficiency of various policy options. For example, as you work on a particular option you may encounter a drawback that you had not thought about before. It is then good practice to define a new (specific or operational) objective on avoiding this drawback. This ensures that the other options are also assessed on this aspect and consequently that the scoring and comparison of the options is carried out on the same set of criteria.

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