Are you Measuring your Outcomes?

12
Aug 15
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Many organisations are being asked to demonstrate the results of their programs and services. To do this they are using outcomes measurement.

Outcomes measurement is the term used to explain the process of assessing and evaluating the results of an activity, policy, intervention, process, or program. Typically, the approach assesses the extent to which the activity has achieved its intended results.  It explores what you provide, and whether or not change is being created for individuals or a community.

The benefits of outcomes measurement

There are many reasons why measuring outcomes is important for your organisation. Here are some of the key reasons:

  • To identify if you are achieving your strategic aims and objectives
  • To be accountable to stakeholders
  • To help you deliver more effective services
  • To improve your programs, policies and practice
  • To identify and determine how best to spend your resources
  • To communicate more effectively to funders and gain further support and funding

Ultimately organisations simply can’t afford to waste time and resources, so outcomes measurement can help you manage and evaluate your services more effectively and ensure you are using your resources to achieve the greatest social impact.

Is this a new approach?

Measuring outcomes is not new. There is a long history of using outcomes to evaluate health care dating back more than 150 years and as organisations have become more accountable in the 20th century, there has been an increasing focus on reporting how well our services and programs are performing.

Across the sector, reporting on inputs and outputs has become the norm, but a new emphasis on outcomes has resulted in outcomes measurement being incorporated into a broad range of social and health care organisations because it provides a framework for evaluation, strategic planning and good governance. Similarly, funders including government, philanthropists and social investors are increasingly seeking to better track and measure the impact of their funding so are using outcomes measurement to make better decisions about how and where they invest their support.

What is an outcome?

There are many definitions that try to define an outcome. Generally however, an outcome is the change or difference brought about as a result of your activities. Outcomes can include changes in attitudes, aspirations, knowledge, values, behaviours or conditions. They can occur at an individual or population level. They can be positive or negative, intended or unintended and they are often affected by external factors beyond the control of the program such as the broader economic, political and social environment.

Outcomes are not always immediate changes that you observe, which is why organisations often talk about short, medium and long term outcomes. These are the immediate to lasting changes that take place after your program or service has been implemented.

How are outcomes measured?

Outcomes are measured by a range of indicators used to measure change. Indicators can be self-reported or observed via proxy indicators, they can be developed specifically for a particular program, or they can be standardised and validated indicators used by other organisations across the sector.

Importantly, indicators must be chosen that are appropriate, meaningful and feasible to collect and report on without over-surveying participants or placing stress on staff. They must accurately provide you with the information you need to make decisions about your activity. For example process indicators monitor the implementation of your activities and whether they were delivered as expected. Outcome indicators are used to assess if change has occurred for stakeholders so are more likely to capture information about behaviours, health and conditions. These indicators allow you to know whether the desired outcome has been achieved or how you are progressing towards achieving the outcome.

Finding effective ways of measuring outcomes can be a challenge, particularly for organisations with limited resources or skills in this area. Often the shift from measuring outputs to measuring outcomes can be a significant change for staff and managers. For this reason it is crucial that you learn the terminology, engage your staff and put the time and resources into planning and supporting employees to implement the process of measuring outcomes.

Free Change Readiness Assessment

If you want to successfully implement outcomes measurement in your organisation, please email me for a free Change Readiness Assessment. This important checklist will help you assess what you need to do to implement outcomes measurement in your organisation.

If you want to learn more about the terminology such as inputs, outputs and outcomes, please download the e-guide and resources at The Logic Model Centre: www.the-logic-model-center.com

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Submitted by Dr Ruth Knight

Dr Ruth Knight

Dr Ruth Knight is Director of Zark Consultancy, she works with nonprofit organisations, government and businesses in the areas of corporate culture, people management, change management, research, leadership development and outcomes measurement. She helps organisations become more strategic and sustainable though measuring their outcomes and impact.

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