The path from outputs to outcomes

February 25, 2008 at 2:13 pm 2 comments

Organisations often focus on evaluating the “outputs” of their activities (what they produce) and not on “outcomes” (what their activities actually achieve), as I’ve written about before. Many international organisations and NGOs have now adopted a “results-based management” approach involving the setting of time-bound measurable objectives which aim to focus on outcomes rather than outputs – as outcomes are ultimately a better measure of whether an activity has actually changed anything or not.

Has this approach been successful? A new report from the UN (of their development agency – UNDP) indicates that the focus is still on outputs rather than outcomes as the link between the two is not clear, as they write:

“The attempt to shift monitoring focus from outputs to outcomes failed for several reasons…For projects to contribute to outcomes there needs to be a convincing chain of results or causal path. Despite familiarity with tools such as the logframe, no new methods were developed to help country staff plan and demonstrate these linkages and handle projects collectively towards a common monitorable outcome.”

Interestingly, they highlight the lack of clarity in linking outputs to outcome – to show a causal path between the two. For example, the difficulty in showing that something that I planned for and implemented (e.g. a staff training program – an output) led to a desirable result (e.g. better performance of an organisation – an outcome).

One conclusion we can make from this study is that we do need more tools to help us establish the link between outputs and outcomes – that would certainly be a great advance.

Read the full UN report here >>


Entry filed under: PR evaluation, Training evaluation.

Getting the final evaluation report right / write Measurement and NGOs – contradicting voices

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michael Blowers  |  February 27, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Glenn, One wonders if they considered the outcomes at the design stage and more importantly, were they measurable. I think there is a need for a discussion, ideally with case studies, on making campaign objective measureable and whether this causes problems or compromises. Also, how difficult would it be to make the objectives relate to outcomes and not just outputs.

    I believe this is potentially easier when measuring online media, where there are a number of methods of capturing out-takes (most popular stories read); but outcomes are also an issue here.

  • 2. Glenn  |  February 28, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Hi Michael, That’s a good point – there is not enough discussion as to whether campaign objectives are measurable or not. And as you mention “compromises” is important – are we making our objectives less ambitious – but measurable?


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