Process & Outcomes: Framing Strategic Objectives

Ambassador (retd.) Kishan S RanaHonorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies.

In international relations, it is vital to distinguish between process actions that aim at getting to particular outcomes, and the outcomes, which are the end results that we seek to accomplish. Sometimes the boundary between the two may look blurred, but the basics are clear. Examples: if a business delegation, or a minister, visits China to promote trade or attract foreign direct investment (FDI), that is process. The actual trade that results, or FDI inflow, is outcome. If the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan hold discussions, that is also process, but if that meeting produces an agreement that removes barriers to trade, or improves visa facilities for citizens of both countries, that is outcome.

Clearly, we need outcomes from our actions. But all outcomes are not the same. Sometimes one outcome leads to other outcomes; it can lead to processes that produce to outcomes of a higher order (i.e. ‘virtuous circles’). It is useful to frame outcomes in a hierarchy. That is not rocket science. Looking at how the best foreign ministries work, outcome objectives are often framed at three levels:

  • Major strategic or overall objectives (typically, around four to ten)
  • Sub-goals under each major objectives (several, or even a dozen-odd)
  • Detailed targets under each sub-goal (variable numbers).

This becomes a cascading process. Integrated actions should set into play interconnected actions. It is not difficult to see that this clarifies both thinking and actions. And it improves focus on where we want to go.

The logic of the above method applies across the government, and in fact to any organization. Is this not something that we should do in India?

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