Measuring Impact

Definition of Output, Outcome and Impact with Examples

Introduction

When it comes to developing your Theory of Change or Impact Measurement approach, one of the barriers to overcome is in learning the overwhelming amount of terminology and language, which surrounds it. From distinguishing the differences between monitoring and evaluation, to understanding the nuances between outcomes and impact, it can be a challenging terrain to navigate. In this article, we will give definitions and examples of outputs, outcomes and impacts, to support you in learning this terminology.  

Definition of Outputs with Examples

Outputs are the tangible or intangible things that an organisation or project produces. These could be completed services, products, interventions or other ‘deliverables’. They should act to ‘spark change’ or act as the catalyst for your identified outcomes. They are normally fairly easy to measure and can often be quantified e.g. how many do we do or the number of outputs you create.  

Examples of Outputs

  • Completed workshops
  • Emails sent
  • Recycling bins installed
  • Blankets delivered

Definition of Outcomes with Examples

Outcomes are the short to medium effects you are looking to have or the ‘step changes’, which need to occur in order to achieve your long term or ultimate goal. If you are trying to facilitate change within an individual, you can think of this as the journey your beneficiary needs to go on to reach the change you have identified. They are often more difficult to measure than outputs, as they can frequently relate to an individuals perceptions, emotions or other internal state. 
 

Examples of Outcomes

  • More job interviews attended
  • Increase in self-esteem
  • More visits with family members
  • More items recycled

Definition of Impact with Examples

Impact is your long term goal or ultimate objective. If you are talking about your organisation’s impact, it will likely be closely linked to your mission statement or vision statement. Whether for your organisation or a project, your impact(s) will be what you are ultimately trying to achieve. If you work with individuals, it will be the end state you would like your beneficiary to be in. Your impact should be achieved, as a result of your outcomes. If your outcomes are the journey your beneficiary will go on, your impact is the end destination. Your impact will often be the most difficult to measure, and since it will frequently occur over a long period of time with other influencing factors, it can be challenging to identify whether any changes you do observe are a result of your efforts or something else (attributing causality).
 

Examples of Impacts

  • Reduction in unemployment in young people within the UK
  • Improved quality of life in individuals with learning disabilities
  • Slowing of climate change
Conclusion

When developing your Theory of Change, or assessing your impact, it can be challenging to differentiate between the different terms and phrases being used. Outputs are the tangible things your organisation produces or creates e.g. number of workshops you run. Outcomes, on the other hand, are the effect you are trying to create as a result of these outputs e.g. increasing self-esteem in participants. These outcomes are often the journey your beneficiary needs to go on to create long term change. Outcomes should ultimately culminate in your impact. Your impact is the long term goal or objective of your organisation or project e.g. the reduction in unemployment in young people. 

Being able to differentiate between these elements within your organisation, will help you identify what you are trying to achieve, what elements you need to measure to assess your performance and, overall, give you the language to be able to communicate the different parts of your organisations effectively.   

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