Like many other community organisations, you are probably being increasingly asked to demonstrate the outcomes of your programs and services. Outcomes measurement allows you to identify which of your programs and services are successful, and helps you to test assumptions and communicate more effectively what your organisation is doing and why.
Ultimately organisations simply can’t afford to waste time and resources, so outcomes measurement can help you manage and evaluate your services more effectively.
Finding effective ways of measuring outcomes can be a challenge, though, particularly for organisations with limited resources or skills in this area. For many years most organisations have focussed on collecting data about outputs (the quantifiable results of your work), which means that a shift to measuring outcomes can be a significant change for staff and managers.
The new focus on measuring outcomes has resulted in some organisations resisting outcomes measurement because if feels too complex, difficult and time intensive. Some believe that only researchers can conduct outcomes measurement and others feel they don’t have the resources available. If you are feeling overwhelmed or under-resourced, you are not alone. However, let me reassure you that outcomes measurement does not have to be complex or difficult. It does not always require significant resources and you can always start with what you have got. You are probably already doing some form of outcome measurement and you don’t even realise it!
So what is outcomes measurement and what do you need to get started?
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.
Why should you conduct outcomes measurement?
There are many reasons why conducting outcomes measurement 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 improve your policies and practice
- To help you deliver more effective services
- To identify and determine how best to spend your resources
- To communicate more effectively to funders and gain further support and funding.
Funders including government, philanthropists and social investors are keenly aware of the need to document the success of programs which is why many are now making outcomes measurement part of their funding agreements. However, outcomes measurement should never be just about compliance, it should always be primarily about understanding how our organisation and sector can become more efficient and effective.
What do you need to do to successfully implement outcomes measurement?
The first thing to do is understand the terminology. People often get stuck or confused quickly because of all the new terminology. What is outcome? Do you know the difference between short, medium and long term outcomes? Can you identify an indicator or a performance measure? What’s the difference between goals and objectives? What does impact mean?
I’ll stop there because I don’t want to confuse you! Hopefully I am making my point clear: the first thing you need to do is to become comfortable with the terminology. Whilst there are some different opinions about definitions, you and your team need to have some consistent understanding and clarity about the language used in outcomes measurement.
The second thing to do is to follow a process to identify the outcomes you are trying to achieve. This can take some time as you have lots of discussions and consultation with your internal team, external stakeholders and clients. There are different processes but I have found that the simplest and most effective way to establish your outcomes is to follow a logic model approach.
Logic models can be used within all types of organisations by service delivery staff, managers and boards. Logic models help you to establish a shared understanding of what your program or service does and what your theory of change looks like. It helps you to reflect on the assumptions you are making and the factors that help or hinder your results. It is also the tool that helps you identify which outcomes you want and need to measure.
To accomplish these first two steps there are many resources available to you including a free webinar about how to create a logic model.
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
Other outcome measurement and result-based resources on Community Door
The Organisational Development Toolkit: particularly section 9 (results)
The outcomes section on Community Door: this section contains details of the 2015 co-design outcomes workshops hosted by QCOSS and the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services
Outcomes Network Space: this online community aims to gain a better understanding of customer experience and satisfaction
StudioQ: Interviews, podcasts and videos about outcomes
Are you ready? Free assessment
If you want to successfully implement outcomes measurement in your organisation, please you can email Dr Ruth Knight 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.
Dr Ruth Knight is the 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.