Planning Key Area 2:


Using Data to Choose Goals and Objectives

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Based on results from your strategic planning process, you should have a strong understanding of what populations and parts of your community are most at risk for suicide and what circumstances are contributing to their risk for suicide. (If you have not yet engaged in a strategic planning process, turn to Planning Key Area 1: Laying Out a Strategic Planning Process.) With those populations of focus in mind, you will need to create goals and objectives for preventing suicide. Every community will have the broad, long-term goal of reducing suicide deaths. But to achieve that, you will need to develop goals and objectives so that you can measure the progress that should be made at certain points in time. Note that this key area intersects quite a bit with the Data, Fit, and Integration elements, so you will need to go back and forth between these elements and this key area.

What are goals and objectives?

Goals = Broad statements about what you intend to be the long-term impact of your prevention efforts

Objectives = Statements describing specific outcomes to be achieved and how they will be achieved

Key Steps

Analyze and interpret needs

Use the following kinds of information to identify the suicide-related needs, risk factors, and protective factors in your community:

  • Morbidity (symptom) data
  • Mortality (death) data
  • Community needs assessments (CNAs)

For more information on how to do this and specific data sources, see Data Key Area 1: Accessing Systems Data for Planning and Data Key Area 2: Gathering Information on Community Context. Focus on the populations your group prioritized in Planning 1, Step 3: Analyze community data and prioritize.

Enter the risk and protective factors into the Strategic Planning Worksheet, Section 1, Rows 5 and 6. If you already have information there, it is useful to revisit it based on this additional data.

For each identified need, the group should ask itself, “What long-term goal(s) will help address this suicide prevention need?” For each risk and protective factor, consider, “What will help reduce this risk factor and increase the related protective factor?” Your community’s data should guide your group’s answers to these questions. Use the answers to develop your goals.

As your group interprets the data and sets related goals, be sure to involve people who are familiar with the culture or characteristics of those impacted by each risk and protective factor. Bringing together community members from across the populations you are trying to reach will produce stronger goals that are more likely to be achieved. You can make your process more inclusive by providing multiple activities for these community members to be involved in different ways. See Fit Key Area 2: Involving Diverse Populations for more information on how to do this.

Write goals

Write long-term and intermediate goals. Create each goal in a way that describes the impact of your prevention strategies. All intermediate goals should be about reducing risk and increasing protective factors that evidence shows will eventually lead to the long-term outcomes of reducing suicidal behaviors and deaths. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Suicide Prevention Resource for Action (Suicide Prevention Resource) lists intermediate goals like this, which they call potential outcomes. You can find these under the Suicide Prevention Resource’s “Potential Outcomes” heading in each strategy section. Consider choosing from these lists for your community’s intermediate goals, which may also help you align your efforts with other efforts in the state. It is especially important to use this process if your community is part of a CDC Comprehensive Suicide Prevention grant. (For more information on CDC Comprehensive Suicide grants, check out their website.)

Examples of long-term goals:

  • Decrease overall suicide death rates in the community
  • Decrease suicide attempts in youth

Examples of intermediate goals:

  • Increase social connectedness in youth
  • Increase access to tele-mental health in rural communities
  • Decrease substance use in youth
  • Decrease unemployment among middle-aged men

As you draft goals, be sure they will directly address groups you have identified as being at increased risk for suicide. For example, if the data show that youth suicide attempts are increasing in the community, you may want to develop a long-term goal that focuses on youth. If you have also identified that a lack of social connectedness is a key risk factor for suicide among youth, you may also want to draft an intermediate goal focused on increasing social connectedness.


  • Long-term goal: Reduce X county’s youth suicide attempt rate
  • Intermediate goal: Increase social connectedness in X community’s school-age youth

Try to get even more specific with your data and related goals if possible. For example, if the populations at highest risk are Black and LGBTQ school-age youth, you could focus your goal on these populations rather than on all school-age youth. In this example, you will want to involve Black and LGBTQ youth, or adults who work closely with these youth, in selecting appropriate goals.

On the Strategic Planning Worksheet:

  • Check one of the boxes in Section 1, Row 7 to show your goal. Use a new worksheet (with all three sections) for each sub-population and its long-term goal. If you are prioritizing more than one broader population in your community, each one will likely have a different sub-population(s). Repeat this process for each.
  • Then for each sub-population, enter the intermediate goals and the risk and/or protective factors they are based on into their worksheet’s Section 2, Column 1.
Identify changes needed to reach your goal

Think about what changes in the community will help you reach your goals. For example, if you take the intermediate goal above of increased social connectedness in youth, your changes may include the following:

  • Increase in the number of youth who can name a trusted adult
  • Decrease in the number of youth who report experiencing bullying
  • Increase in the number of youth engaged in after-school activities

After you identify the changes needed to help achieve your goal, you will need to consider which prevention approaches can help create those changes. Turn to Integration Key Area 1, Steps 2-4 for guidance on choosing evidence-informed prevention approaches and their associated programs, policies, and practices.

Equally important is considering the cultural fit of potential approaches. Some approaches will be a good fit with your community’s context and culture, and some will not. For any approaches you may have in your strategic plan that are a poor fit, decide whether to adapt them or remove them from the plan. For guidance, turn to Fit 3, Step 2: Adapt evidence-informed prevention approaches and Integration 1, Step 3: Consider community fit and feasibility. Then go on to Step 4 just below in this Planning key area.

Create objectives for each goal

Once you have figured out what needs to change in your community to achieve your goal and have identified approaches that can create that change, it is time to draft your objectives. Objectives explain how you will achieve the goal and how you will know you have achieved it. SMART objectives describe short-term, measurable changes that need to occur to reach your goals. They will allow you to track your progress over time.

SMART objectives are:

Specific = Describe who, what, when, and where
Measurable = Describe what/how much change will occur
Achievable = Set realistic expectations for what will be achieved and have a way to show it
Relevant = Describe outcomes that will help achieve the specific goal(s)
Time-bound = Define when the outcomes will be achieved

In the example goal above on social connectedness, we list three needed changes. You can restate each desired change as an objective using the SMART acronym.

  • Change 1, Objective 1: At least 75% of students in X school district (Specific, Measurable) will be able to identify at least one trusted adult in their lives (Achievable, Relevant) by December 2024 (Time-bound).
  • Change 2, Objective 2: By December 2025 (Time-bound), there will be a 25% decrease in the number of youth who report having either bullied or been bullied over the past year (Specific, Achievable, Relevant) as measured by our community’s youth risk behavior survey (Measurable).
  • Change 3, Objective 3: From 2022 to 2025 (Time-bound), over half of X school district’s student population (Specific, Measurable) will participate in weekly youth development after-school activities (Achievable, Relevant).

These objectives (also called statements of change) will help you track progress toward achieving the associated goal over time. The objectives are closely tied to the prevention programs, policies, and practices you will lay out in your strategic plan. (See Integration Key Area 1: Combining Multiple, Evidence-Informed Approaches.)

Make sure to plan how you will measure each change as you write your objectives. (For guidance on this, see Data 3, Step 5: Create evaluation plans.) Adjust the language of your objectives if they are not something you can realistically measure. For more information on developing SMART objectives and some examples, see the CDC sheet Writing SMART Objectives.

Make objectives SMARTIE

Your community can add an “I” for Inclusive and “E” for Equitable to your SMART acronym. SMARTIE objectives require your community to look at whether the objectives being written are also inclusive and equitable.

Inclusive = In all aspects of planning, carrying out, and evaluating your prevention efforts, include populations that your community identifies as needing suicide prevention supports. Representatives from these groups should meaningfully guide your efforts and decisions and share power. “Nothing about us without us.”

Equitable = Improve systems and processes that discriminate, cause, or have caused uneven barriers to opportunities.

To see if your goals and objectives are inclusive and equitable you can ask your group:

  • “Are the groups most in need of suicide prevention helping to create the goals and objectives (Inclusive)?”
  • “Are there inequities that could impact my community’s ability to achieve this objective’s goals (Equitable)?”
What are health inequities? “Health inequities are differences in health status or in the distribution of health resources between different population groups, arising from the social conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age. Health inequities are unfair” (World Health Organization)1

Step 2, Write goals, in this key area describes why it is important to create goals that name specific populations. This is true for objectives too. You might find that local youth behavior surveys show that LGBTQ youth are much less likely to be able to name a trusted adult than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. This difference highlights an inequity that could interfere with reaching your goal – if you focus on the general youth population, you may not see any change. To address this, your group could update Objective 1 from above to make it SMARTIE:

  • Objective 1: At least 75% of LGBTQ students in X school district (Specific, Measurable, Equitable) will be able to identify at least one trusted adult in their lives (Achievable, Relevant) by December 2024 (Time-bound).

If in creating this objective you include the voices of LGBTQ community members and organizations that support or serve these youth, you can also add that this objective is Inclusive. Of course, when choosing programs, practices, or policies related to this objective, you will need to use approaches that are tailored to this population. See Fit Key Area 3: Incorporating Community Context and Culture for more details.

Enter your SMARTIE objective(s) into the Strategic Planning Worksheet, Section 2, Column 6.

For more information on writing SMARTIE goals and objectives, visit the Management Center’s SMARTIE Goals Worksheet.

[1] World Health Organization. (2018). Health inequities and their causes.

Map out short-term, intermediate, and long-term changes

The goals and objectives listed above represent short-term, intermediate, and long-term changes. In suicide prevention, communities ultimately seek to reduce suicide attempts and deaths (long-term changes or goals). But it is also important to set up short-term and intermediate changes that contribute to reducing suicide attempts and deaths.

One tool that can help map out the different kinds of changes is a “logic model.” Although some logic models can be complex, they don’t have to be. They are meant to help communities identify how suicide prevention approaches and changes relate to one another.

The following example is a logic model that shows how the goals and objectives from the steps above could be mapped out as short-term changes (objectives), intermediate changes (intermediate goals), and long-term changes (long-term goals). A related, selected approach has been included in the far-left column of this logic model because the approach will help to achieve the identified objectives. For information on selecting approaches, turn to Integration 1, Step 2: Review evidence-informed approaches and Integration 1, Step 3: Consider community fit and feasibility.

Table 1. Example of a Logic Model

Approach – Policy, Practice, or Program Objectives Intermediate Goal – Changes in Risk and Protective Factors Long-Term Goal – Reduced Suicide Attempts and/or Deaths
Implement a peer norms program designed to reduce bullying and increase social connectedness Objective 1: At least 75% of LGBTQ students in X school district will be able to identify at least one trusted adult in their lives by December 2024.

Objective 2: By December 2025, there will be a 25% decrease in the number of youth who report having either bullied or been bullied over the past year.

Objective 3: From 2022 to 2025, over half of X school district’s students will participate in weekly youth connectedness activities.

Intermediate Goal 1: Increase social connectedness in X community’s school-age youth. Long-Term Goal 1: Reduce X county’s youth suicide attempt rate.

Moving from left to right as you read this logic model, each item to the left directly influences the items to the right. The chosen approach, “implement a peer norms program designed to reduce bullying and increase social connectedness,” can help your community achieve all three short-term objectives. The short-term objective of increasing the number of youth who can name a trusted adult has evidence showing it will directly help achieve the intermediate goal of increasing social connectedness (a protective factor in suicide prevention). That will, in turn, help to achieve the long-term goal of reducing the youth suicide attempt rate.

You can continue filling in this logic model with additional goals and objectives, starting with the long-term goals and then the objective(s) that contribute to reaching them. The listed short-term, intermediate, and long-term changes should be directly related to the suicide prevention policies, practices, and programs that will help create your desired change. (For information on selecting prevention approaches, visit Integration Key Area 1: Combining Multiple, Evidence-Informed Approaches.)

For additional information on creating robust logic models, visit CDC’s Identifying the Components of a Logic Model.

Connect your planning with state-level efforts

Connect your strategic planning efforts with state-level efforts. As you draft your community’s strategic suicide prevention plan, reach out to your state suicide prevention lead to learn more about the current state-level suicide prevention plan in place. (Almost all U.S. states and territories have current suicide prevention plans.) To find your state suicide prevention contact and most recent state suicide prevention plan, you can visit In your initial outreach, think about the following:

  • Highlighting areas where your community goals and the state plan goals overlap
  • Seeking guidance on how to strengthen local efforts
  • Asking about available resources at the state level that can support your local efforts