An improvement aim articulates a specific problem to be solved and the measures of accomplishment to which the community will hold itself accountable. A good aim statement expresses lofty goals and specifies operational targets. It offers explicit guidance as to what is to be accomplished by when and for whom.
Aim statements can be framed in two distinct but closely related ways:
- Declaration of a lofty purpose: This framing decision inspires individuals to see themselves as members of a community engaged in a highly valued pursuit. Statements framed in the language of “the lives we will touch” are especially powerful.
- Example: Carnegie Math Pathways ratified an aim “To reclaim 10,000 students’ mathematical lives.” The aim engenders a sense of commitment among participants to a larger cause that no individual or single institution can advance alone. It creates both a reason and a need for collective action.
- Technical specification: This framing decision details a precisely defined, measurable outcome and statistics that will be used to chart progress.
- Example: Carnegie Math Pathways initially specified an aim “To increase from 5% to 50% the proportion of developmental math students successfully achieving college math credit within one year by enrolling in a Pathways course of student.” An aim defined at this level of technical detail allows a NIC to identify a baseline comparison both overall and within each college so program impact can be charted over time.
The two different framing methods must meld smoothly together. Continuing with Carnegie Math Pathways as an example, the declaration about “the number of student lives to be touched” must be directly connected to the version being used to evaluate annual performance. These two versions of an aim statement combine to motivate participation and direct specific improvement actions.