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Why It's Smart to Add the IE

As part of IM4E, we encouraged the improvement teams to scaffold shorter term, specific aims to work towards their longer term goals and imperatives to increase equitable outcomes for students. An aim in improvement science is the objective, milestone, end result, or a collective “north star” that the team is intending to achieve through their initiative.  

Many organizational and business improvement projects focus on creating an aim that is SMART—specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. However, to ensure that the aim is also meaningful and compelling to the communities engaged in building a more just world, a SMART aim isn’t enough. We encouraged teams to take the aim one step further; not only SMART but also inclusive and equitable—SMARTIE. To develop the scaffolding between equity imperatives and SMARTIE aims, we drew from the Management Center and the expertise of Tanya Johnson, an equity leader in the education sector.

Smartie Aims Graphic


Why is it important for an aim to be inclusive and equitable? Setting an aim centered on inclusion and equity creates intentionality to identify and include those most affected from the beginning. For example, in traditional efforts to improve school systems, school administrators meet to determine the challenges, perhaps consult with teachers to create a solution. In inclusive improvement initiatives, administrators, teachers, students, and families work together to both determine the problem and solve it—ensuring those who are traditionally excluded from the process are brought in to meaningfully participate.

There is a common saying in improvement that systems are designed to get exactly the results that they get. This is why it is critical to prioritize equity from the very beginning and name those who will benefit from the system’s improvement in the aim. For example, if a hospital is trying to improve services for non-English speaking patients, they cannot just aim to improve services for all patients—this does not address the challenges of specific populations. Naming for whom we intend to better serve and how we will center their lived experience and voices throughout improvement efforts helps us to create SMART aims that are also intentional about inclusion and equity.

smartie Aims


So where do you start? Shift has developed a handy template that will help you draft a SMARTIE aim. As your team sits down to draft an aim, consider the following questions: 

  • Have we identified a specific aim, particularly asking how this project will improve outcomes for those least well-served? 
  • Have we incorporated the voices of those closest to the problem in meaningful ways?  
  • Do we have all the information needed about what needs to be addressed? Consider conducting a Perspective Prism and a root cause analysis  
  • Who is at the table as we draft this aim? Who are we missing? 


Ready to learn more? Watch Shift’s video on creating SMARTIE Aims. 

These videos were produced in a response to the need for digital/virtual resources during the pandemic. Shift created a series of 16 videos focused on core ideas, methods, and practices of Continuous Improvement.

Video: Smartie Aims

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