Output versus Outcome and Why it Matters in Evaluation
This is the first in a series of articles for my quarterly blog that will present topics and tips in evaluation. Output versus Outcome, was selected as the first topic after I came across one too many monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plans and project documents that invariably listed outputs as outcomes. However, if we are to evaluate whether development projects in the Caribbean are making a difference, we must evaluate for results by properly defining and looking at outcomes.
Evaluating for results, also known as results-based monitoring and evaluation (RB M&E) is looking for answers to “So what?”. It calls for assessing and measuring what results or changes logically flowed from the inputs, activities, and outputs of a programme. Was there a change in access? Was there a change in ability? Was there a change in skill? Was there a change in behaviour or practice? These changes are usually stated as the results or outcomes that the programme aims to accomplish. Changes in access, ability or skill are immediate results, while change in behaviour is intermediate.
The inputs, activities, and outputs make up the desired path for getting to the outcomes. Inputs are the financial, human and material resources that go into a programme (e.g., funding, staffing, and equipment). Activities are the tasks undertaken by the programme (e.g., delivering training, sensitizing the general public, advocating for legislative changes). Outputs are the products produced or services delivered through the programme’s activities (e.g., training, a workshop, a new legislation, or a new community centre).
It is easier to measure programme inputs, activities and outputs, than it is to measure outcomes, because they are usually tangible, can be counted, built, or budgeted. If it can be counted, bought or built it is an output!
Traditionally, evaluation focused on programme implementation and stopped at measuring outputs. However, to determine whether a programme is making a difference or is achieving its goal, it is critical to look at outcomes, positive and negative, intended and unintended, that resulted from the outputs.
This article was also published in Volume 1, Number 1 of Caribbean EvalChat, a publication of Caribbean Evaluators International and available here, http://eepurl.com/ccFsGr.