Navigate the Systems Change Toolbox

Understand the Problem

Review how to organize your objectives (what you’re hoping to achieve), understand the relationship among those objectives, and separate objectives from means (how you’re going to achieve the objectives).

Organizing and Understanding Objectives

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Using This Tool: Key Questions

Who should use this tool?

Workforce practitioners who want to act on a problem or “mess” and organize their many concerns to better understand what they want to achieve.

What does this tool help you achieve?

Systems change initiatives are often designed to tackle multiple problems and achieve multiple objectives simultaneously. Brainstorm your many concerns about a problem, organize concerns into a set of objectives (or things you want to achieve), and determine which objectives are most important or fundamental. Properly organized objectives inform all subsequent decisions in your systems change initiative, including what to research, which stakeholders to involve, and the means by which to achieve your objectives.

When should you use this tool?

Think Phase

Additional Reading

  • Review: Example of this process from Baltimore.
  • Presentation: “Objectives” by Tom Stockton, environmental decision analyst at Neptune and Company, on identifying and organizing objectives.
  • Article: “The Hierarchy of Objectives,” Harvard Business Review, May 1964, on performance measurement and the hierarchy of objectives.

Organizing and Understanding Objectives

This worksheet provides guidance on the fundamental objective hierarchy process.* Use this process to better understand how to solve your problem.

1. Identify Objectives

Start by brainstorming all your possibilities. Consider your primary concerns. Create a wish list of tasks you want to accomplish. Consider alternatives and reflect on your past work. At the end of this step, you should have identified your objectives.

2. Separate Means and Ends

Classify your identified objectives into means and ends. Of the objectives you identified, ask yourself these questions:

  • Could this objective be a means to achieving or contributing to another? These are means objectives.
  • Does this objective define the fundamental reason for your interest? These are fundamental objectives.


  • Means objective: Show up to work early.
  • Fundamental objective: Get your work done on time.

3. Create a Hierarchy

Organize your fundamental objectives into a hierarchy. Place general objectives at the top. Lower-level objectives should be mutually exclusive and collectively describe a higher-level objective:

  • As you move objectives down the list, ask, “What do you mean by that?”
  • As you move objectives up the list, ask, “What more general objective is this an aspect of?”


*Inspired by Keeney, R. L. (1996). Value-focused thinking. A path to creative decision-making. Harvard University Press.

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