Desired Outcomes


Most groups want to describe the results of their work. In everyday conversation, people use the terms “results”, “outcomes” and “impacts” to mean essentially the same thing – that is, what happened as a consequence of what you did. However, evaluators make distinctions between the terms “outcomes” and “impacts.” Those distinctions reflect whether or not the evaluator used particular quantitative methods to determine not just what happened, but its cause. So, in evaluation the term “outcome” refers to a particular state of being (a set of conditions, experiences or behaviors – that is the goal for change or improvement). When reporting the results of an evaluation, the outcome refers to what was achieved. For example, an outcome could be “all children are reading on grade level by the end of third grade,” or “the school system is fully prepared to support children of immigrants and refugees when they first enter the school system.”

By contrast, impact in evaluation refers to the level of change achieved by a particular intervention. When reporting results, impact answers the question, “what happened, taking into account how much would have happened without this particular intervention?” This is done through various ways of isolating the effects of the work, either through random assignment, or with the use of various statistical techniques. So, in the example above, the result might be “no impact” even if all children in that particular school were reading on grade level at the end of grade three, because something else changed that made the difference.

For most evaluations of racial equity work, it is not possible to measure impact, because of the ethical and technical difficulties in controlling for all of the things that could influence the kinds of changes being sought. Most of the time, groups are trying to track outcomes.

Resources in this section provide more information about outcomes, as well as some examples and tips for defining and measuring them. They also provide support in developing indicators. An indicator is a specific set of data that represents a measureable characteristics or change that indicates the achievement of an outcome.  Groups often end up using several different indicators to get a sense of progress toward each outcome of interest. See TIP SHEETS: What is An Outcome and What is An Outcome Indicator and What Are Some Examples of Outcomes.



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