Try not to confuse outcomes with outputs. Outputs are the activities we do or accomplish that help achieve outcomes. Outcomes are the results of those activities for individuals, families, groups, or communities. Look at the following examples.
|Outputs – Activities||Outcomes|
|The program trains and empowers community volunteers.||Community volunteers have knowledge and skill to work effectively with at-risk youth.|
|Program staff teach financial management skills to low-income families.||Low-income families are better able to manage their resources.|
|The camp experience provides leadership development opportunities for 4-H youth.||Campers, aged 12-15 years of age, learn new leadership and communication skills while at camp.|
|An annual conference disseminates the latest forage research.||Forage producers in Pasture County know current research information and use it to make informed decisions.|
Another way to look at the difference between outputs and outcomes (Hatry, 1999):
- Outputs: Is the client served?
- Outcomes: Has the client’s situation improved?
Hints About What Are and Are Not Outcomes
In most cases, recruitment and training refer to internal program functions intended to support or improve program activities. The number of staff and/or volunteers recruited, the number trained, the resources committed to their development, etc. indicate the volume of these internal functions. These aspects help our programs accomplish outcomes; they are not outcomes. They do not represent benefits or changes for program participants or beneficiaries.
If, however, the program is addressing a situation of low volunteer involvement in community affairs and the purpose of the program is to increase volunteering among community residents as a part of a larger community development initiative, then increased numbers of residents volunteering in community life would be an outcome.
This information relates to “participation” or “reach” in our logic model that are part of Outputs. It indicates the volume or extent to which we reached the target audience. It does not indicate whether the participants or clients benefited or are doing anything differently as a result of the program, so it is not an outcome.
If, however, the purpose of the program is to increase use of a service by an underserved group, then numbers using the service would be an outcome. Notice, the outcome is not numbers attending or served; the outcome is expressed as use that indicates behavioral change.
These items refer to activities we undertake and accomplish. They may be classified as “what we do”. These are Outputs. They may be essential aspects that are necessary and make it possible for a group or community to change. But, they do not represent benefits or changes in participants and so are not outcomes.
For our purposes in education and outreach programming, client satisfaction may be necessary but is not sufficient. A participant may be satisfied with various aspects of the program (professionalism of staff, location, facility, timeliness, responsiveness of service, etc) but this does not mean that the person learned, benefited or his/her condition improved. If a participant is pleased and satisfied with the program, it may mean that s/he will fully participate and complete a program. As such, satisfaction can be an important step along the way to outcomes. It, however, is generally not an outcome.
In some cases, we may have to settle for participant satisfaction. In programs where individuals are extremely mobile or it is difficult to track people beyond the immediate program service, satisfaction measures may be the best we can do.