Measuring success – outputs and results
Should targets for ‘outputs’ be scrapped?
No, but results are more important.
As evaluators, we spend a lot of our time analysing monitoring data which projects and programmes collect in order to measure their performance. These indicators are a critical part of the process of assessing whether or not a programme, or a project, can be considered to have been successful.
There are usually two types of these performance indicators.
Outputs: are measures the activities being undertaken by a programme or project. For example, the number of businesses or individuals advised or supported.
Results: (sometimes called ‘outcomes’) are indicators of what is being achieved by a project as a result of the activities being undertaken. For example, the growth of a business or the person supported gets a job.
When we ask a project manager whether their project has been successful, they often refer to ‘outputs’. For example, they may say;“the project has been very successful because it’s supported 500 people” or “we’ve given financial support to 1,000 businesses”.This is often because they are targeted by funders against the delivery of these outputs – so we can’t blame them for such as response. The response of the evaluator to this should be: well done… but so what?
What difference has the fact that a project supported those 500 people made? What difference has the fact that 1,000 businesses have received financial support made? These are far more important questions when evaluating whether or not a project has been successful and this is why results should be more important to a project than outputs. By measuring results you are measuring the effectiveness of the service.
Because funders set targets for outputs (for example, they set a target for the number of businesses supported or the number of individuals in receipt of xx hours of support), projects often become almost obsessive about achieving those output targets and forget about the results. And you can’t blame them if that’s how a funder is assessing how successful they have been. But is that the right way to measure the performance of a project? No.
You can’t get rid of outputs. They have an important role to play in terms of demonstrating the activity that has been undertaken and (more importantly) demonstrating how results have been achieved. Results should however be what counts when assessing how successful a project has been.
Endaf Griffiths is one of Wavehill’s Senior Consultants and a Director of the business.