As someone who was glued to the Olympics, I was intrigued by the see-sawing of the media's attitude to Team GB's performance in Beijing. It started with humble expectation and ended in mass adoration.
Specifying an end goal can be tricky, and not just for media commentators. For charities - especially campaigning ones - it presents particular problems. If trustees set the standards too high, the goal becomes purely aspirational. Ending child poverty worldwide in a decade is a powerful target, but how realistic is it?
Setting low expectations and hoping to over-deliver is also problematic. How far short of your end goal do you set them without managing expectations so far downwards that little of the original vision or mission remains?
Reviewing progress against aspirations is vital, but so is managing how the results are used. If, instead of encouraging innovation and creativity, the review process results in a downgrading of ambitions, then the risks of under-achievement also grow.
Sometimes it is worth reaching for the stars despite being in the gutter. If Action on Smoking and Health had said when it was founded in 1971 that one of its goals was to bring about a UK-wide smoking ban by 2007, it is unlikely anyone would have taken it seriously. By the same token, however, its task is far from complete and the work to raise awareness and promote research continues.
Major goals take time to achieve and consume significant resources. There will always be days when relatively little seems to have been achieved. But day-to-day work can build greater awareness, public support and political will to levels unimaginable on day one. It takes tenacity, but we should never take our eyes off the prize.
- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.