Goals are what you want to achieve - they can be as simple as “leave the house” or “acquire a peanut butter sandwich” up to “increase the GDP of the country”. It’s whatever you want to make happen or get.
A strategy is the short and long term plans for making the goal happen, how you’re going to get from where you are now to where you want to be (hopefully with some clear evidence that what you’re going to do will be successful).
Tactics are the operations you will undertake to implement the strategy.
So, some examples:
goal - improve literacy rates in the country
strategy - increase the number of high quality teachers and reduce poor behaviour in schools
tactics - introduce golden hellos to teachers with specific or high level qualifications, hire behaviour specialists nationally to work with schools to develop behaviour strategies and interventions at a pupil and school level.
goal - lose 20lb
strategy - reduce calorie intake and start walking more
tactics - use the weight watchers system of points to measure and reduce the amount of calories eaten, buy a pedometer to measure steps taken per day and meet a daily target of 10,000 steps
goal - find and eliminate Osama Bin Laden
strategy - improve diplomatic ties with countries that we suspect have links with al Qaieda, improve the quality and quantity of intelligence resources globally
tactics - increase foreign aid to countries that are willing to provide good information on al Qaieda, hire more CIA agents with a requirement that 30% have some specific expertise in terrorism and/or Islamic extremism.
Finally, a way of helping to understand the difference is to remove one of them from the equation and see what you have.
Without a goal you’ll be doing things but you won’t know what you’re trying to achieve, so all your efforts are meaningless. “We’re going to increase defence spending and the military capabilities of the armed forces through targeted recruitment, better training and investment in equipment” There’s a strategy and tactics, but as there’s no goal you could just keep increasing spending forever as you don’t know what you’re trying to make happen; when do you have a strong enough force? At what point is spending too high? You don’t know what you’re trying to achieve so there’s no real way to know.
Without a strategy you’ll know what you want but you won’t know how you’re going to get there, so your actions may not have the effect you want or may not work at all. “We want to reduce levels of smoking in the population so we’re going to reduce the price of bananas and put up petrol tax”. It’s clear what the goal is, as are the tactics to achieve it, but there’s no link between the two so it’s probably not going to work.
Without tactics you’ll know what you want and have a plan of how to achieve it, but you won’t actually be doing anything to make it happen. “We want to lower the rates of human trafficking through better communication between public agencies, improved immigration checks and more punitive penalties for people caught trafficking others. We’ve written a 100 page strategy document which is going to sit on a shelf for the next five years before being reviewed.” Here the goal is clear and there is a strategy for achieving it, but it doesn’t matter if the strategy is a good one or not as it’s not actually being put into effect, so nothing will happen.
Is it obvious that I work in government policy implementation?