Outputs or Outcomes? Measuring Impact 101

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Who doesn’t want to be able to show something for their efforts? Who doesn’t want to be able to point to the results of their labor? Measuring the impact of a ministry or an enterprise is more important than ever. Boards, foundations, and partners need to see progress towards a vision.

In 2015 I went to MIT. I walked into the bookstore and I bought a t-shirt to commemorate the visit. So, while I “went” to MIT, I did not really attend this prestigious institution and earn a degree. Similarly, I remember going to a job fair and meeting with a lady who listed my own alma mater (Georgia Tech) in the education section of her resume /CV. When I asked about her degree and when she graduated she confessed that she had simply attended a weekend seminar on the campus. She had not actually earned a degree from the prestigious institute- she simply showed up.

In the same way, holding a training program with 100 attendees is not the same as having trained 100 people. So, how do you know if these attendees are actually trained? You have to get beyond measuring the activities of your organization and measure the effects of your activities. This is the simple way to differentiate between measuring outputs and measuring outcomes.

In simple terms, the measurements around activities are the outputs of your organization. These are things like seminar attendance, materials translated, or ministry centers that are built. It is tempting to focus organizational measurements around activities because they are so easy to quantify and so easy to control. Accountability for the accomplishment of the activity is clear. However, this does beg the question, “Did the activity really make a difference?”

July news jungle gymNow I do not want to disparage activities and outputs. They are necessary building blocks to accomplish impact. Strategic activities and outputs often lead to outcomes and impact. They are like the foundation or scaffolding for a building. But if all you have is a foundation and scaffolding then you don’t have a building, you have a skate park or a playground at best.

So, what are outcomes then? These are the results of your activities and outputs. In the examples above, going to MIT is an activity while earning a degree is an outcome. The outcome describes a change in state. Before attending Georgia Tech I had no idea how to be a Chemical Engineer. Afterward, I could proudly claim to be a Chemical Engineer as proven by successfully completing more than four years of course work and evaluations of my new found knowledge. In short- I had changed.

Likewise, the outcome of your enterprise is a measureable change in the people you work with or the places where you work. How are the places and lives of people affected and by how much?

So, what are these changes? What then should we measure in order to measure outcomes and the impact of an organization? I will outline this in the August newsletter in “Measuring Impact 201”.