Development Cooperation Handbook/Designing and Executing Projects/The objective tree

Steps and Tools

After identifying the problems or concerns and their causes, we can start to develop possible objectives for our project or project/programme. These can be thought of as positive statements about what the situation would look like if the problems were overcome. This will help us to consider opportunities, constraints and possible strategies.

You decide what objectives you chose after Exploring Possible Objectives.

When thinking through possible objectives, we should consider:

  • To what extent does the objective respond to the problems identified by beneficiaries?
  • Are we clear about the assumptions we are making about cause and effect when we link objectives with problems?
  • Do we have a good understanding of the relationship between what we are trying to achieve and how we will achieve it?
  • Is this objective realistic? Will be achievable within the scope of this intervention?
  • Will the impact of this objective reach the poorest of the poor? Does it take into account the differences of vulnerability within different groups (such as women, children people living with HIV/AIDS or the disabled)?
  • Will the benefits be sustainable? Are they likely to last beyond the life of the project or programme?

One way of doing this is to create an objective tree by returning to our problem tree, and turning the problems we listed into positive statements.

An objectives tree is a visual representation of objectives. It is the positive opposite of the problem tree, and helps to give us a clear idea of all objectives, which are more important, which need to be achieved first and the relationship between them all.


  1. Taking the problem tree as your base
  2. Convert each problem into a positive statement which represents the ideal or hoped for situation, with the central problem becoming the central objective. For example the problem of “lack of materials” became the objective “increased availability of materials“, “lack of technical capacity” became “increased number skilled people”, etc. The conversion of problems into objectives was not merely a mechanical inversion; thus, for instance, the problem of “seasonal dry period” was converted into the possible objective of “Increased storage of rain water”.
  3. The effects will likely become objectives, answering the question “what?”, and the causes will likely become the means, answering the question “how?.

While doing the exercise it will become clear that some “positive” changes are unrealistic and beyond the scope of the intervention. For example “reduced cyclical drought” is not realistic within the confines of a project. However, all possible (no matter how improbable) objectives in the objective tree should be kept, in order not to discard the possibilities without discussion, and to be aware of external factors which could influence the final objectives.

The problem and objectives trees provide a simplified, but comprehensive, view of cause and effect relationships. This can help to make the process of creating a logical framework more accessible to primary (and other) stakeholders, making it easier to involve them in identifying, designing and revising the project design.

The activities that project teams carry out must produce outputs that will empower project beneficiaries to better interact with their communities and utilise project deliverables to achieve the project outcomes These outcomes will enable the communities to tackle the problems identified and produce changes in the factors generating these problems, thereby contributing to the achievement of the project objectives To make the project successful, it is necessary that project teams understand the requirements, needs and problems of the beneficiaries and that the beneficiaries understand the requirements, needs and problems of the communities. If the project team has correctly understood the needs and problems of the target beneficiaries, they will be able to utilise the outputs to empower beneficiaries, i.e. move from outputs to outcomes If the project beneficiaries have correctly understood the needs and problems of the communities, they will be able to empower communities, i.e. move from outcomes to impact Without active contribution of beneficiariers, project ouputs will not be utilised to achieve project outcomes Without active contribution of communities, beneficiariers will not be able to utilise outcomes to achieve impact.

The problem tree moves top downwards, identifying first the major problem, then the factors that determine these problems and then the causes of these factors.   The objective tree moves bottom upwards, first identifying the outputs that would directly address the causes of the factors and then identifying the specific objectives that directly address the causes of these factors.

See also edit

  in other sections of this handbook