Identifying specific, measurable outcomes requires time, thought, and a clear understanding of desired results. Some ways to do this include:
- Ask yourself: What is/will be different as a result of the initiative? For whom? What will be changed/improved? What do/will beneficiaries say is the value of the program? What do/will they say about why they came?
- Think about what you want to be able to say to your funder or the taxpayers who finance your program. What would you want to say to your state legislator? If you could write a news release about your program, what would your headline be? Your answers to these questions are most likely outcomes.
- For an existing program, look at all the program’s major activities. For each activity, ask yourself, “Why are we doing that?” Usually, the answer to the “Why?” question is an outcome.
- Seek ideas and input from others. Their perspectives will help provide a broader understanding of the program and its benefits. This activity will also help build consensus among key program stakeholders. You might talk with current and past participants, funders, peers, local officials, board members, and informed outsiders.
- Review existing program material.
Who Chooses Outcomes?
- Program Staff will have ideas about the outcomes of their programs–about what they are trying to achieve and the difference their program makes for people or groups they reach. Program staff often focus on their own actions–what they do–so it is important to ensure that outcomes are stated in terms of what happens for participants; what the value or benefit(s) is for the youth, producers, businesses, clientele.
- Participants are also a good source of information about program outcomes. Why do the participants come? What do they hope will happen? How do they expect to benefit? Asking participants about what they hope to gain is a good way to identify meaningful outcomes.
- Other people will also have important insights into program outcomes. For example, you might talk with individuals who have experience with a similar program, program observers, or people who know the participants and know what they’ve gained. Likewise, funders will have expectations and perceptions to offer.
Ways to seek input into identifying outcomes
Consider using one of the following methods to identify the outcomes of your program. You may develop meaningful outcomes that you had not thought of before.
- Hold a focus group(s) with key program stakeholders: staff, participants, funders, etc. Ask the same questions of each group: What difference does the program make for…? What is its value? What is important about this program?
- Have staff role-play different stakeholder groups: clients, funders, elected officials. For example, a community tobacco control coalition might ask its staff and members to play the role of various stakeholders: restaurant owner, program participant, quit-line operator, county board member, department of public health staff, local media representative.
- Record the sessions. List all outcomes, either explicit or implicit, that are identified.