The path from outputs to outcomes
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 >>