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Help with aims and outcomes

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Project planning

It is worth investing as much time as you can in planning your project. A helpful way of thinking about your aim, outcomes and activities is to use a Planning Triangle[4]. It can help you to discuss and record what you want to change and how you will do it, and then let you test how realistic your plans are.

Put your overall aim at the top of the triangle

To help you set your aim, think about why you offer your particular service or mix of services. What do you hope the effect will be? The overall aim describes in broad, general terms the change you want to see. Being realistic with your aim will help you identify realistic outcomes.

Choose a simple aim and word it carefully. It should be something that you can achieve or at least influence strongly over the course of your project. For example, "engage young people positively in the community".

Remember that your aim is also the summary of how you will explain why your project exists - and why it should be funded.

Put your intended outcomes into the middle level of the triangle

What needs to change for your project to achieve its overall aim? What differences will your project help to make for your beneficiaries? The answers to these questions are your project outcomes. Some of these outcomes might happen quickly, while others may take longer and depend on meeting other outcomes - but they must be changes that will happen by the end of your project.

Be sure to use words of change when describing your outcomes, such as: more, better, less, improved. In some cases your outcomes may involve keeping a situation stable, or stopping things from getting worse.

You should also make sure that your outcomes refer to changes that are not simply related to the workings of your project. For instance, instead of saying "young people contribute to decisions about running the project", you should say "young people are more confident and able to express their opinions".

It can be hard to think in terms of outcomes. If this happens, start by looking at what activities you intend to do and ask yourself why you are running them. What changes will those activities lead to?

Don't write too many outcomes. Keep them short. It is better to focus on fewer outcomes and be absolutely clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Put your project activities in the bottom layer of the triangle

See the Activities page for advice on activities

An example of a completed planning triangle for a youth project

Reviewing your planning triangle

When you have filled in a triangle, check the following:

  • Have you used words of change in the top and middle and words of action in the bottom of the triangle?
  • Does the middle of the triangle describe what changes will result for your beneficiaries (or for organisations, the community or environment)? 
  • Does the bottom of the triangle describe what staff or volunteers will do

Now you can look at the triangle as a whole, to check that the plans for your project are realistic:


  • Look at each of your outcomes in the middle level. Will the activities you have listed at the bottom realistically help you to achieve one or more of your outcomes? 
  • Now look at the activities. Does each one have a direct link to one or more of the outcomes? If not, why is the activity included? You may need to consider whether the activity really is important. It may well be that the activity will help you to achieve another change. If this is the case you may need to include another outcome. It may help to do this if you number the outcomes and put the relevant number(s) against each activity.

Here is a blank version of the triangle for you to use:

Word document (56Kb)

4 The CES Planning Triangle is used and adapted by kind permission of Charities Evaluation Services.