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Understanding terminology for outcomes measurement

Outcomes terminology can be confusing. Consider these common terms:

Outcomes: Measurable, meaningful changes in the people, organizations or communities that a program serves. Initial outcomes (knowledge, skills, values, attitudes) lead to intermediate outcomes (changes in behavior, milestones), which, in turn, lead to long-term outcomes (new life condition).

Impacts: Broader changes that occur within the community or society as a result of a program or service.

Target population: Group of people or entities to which an organization is accountable for outcomes. The target population is defined by demographics and circumstances describing the need for support.

Service population: Broader group of people or entities that an organization serves for practical reasons but to which the organization isn't accountable for outcomes. The service population is defined by demographics and circumstances.

Participants: The individuals a program is designed to support. Participants are defined by demographics and circumstances.

Outputs: The quantity of program services provided. Outputs are usually defined as the number of participants who enroll in, attend and complete a program.

Inputs: Resources dedicated to or consumed by a program to produce outcomes in the target and service populations. Inputs include staff, volunteers, program supplies, curricula, finances, administration, facilities, partnerships, staff training and support.

Outcome measurement plan: A work plan outlining specific tasks required to gather measurable outcomes data. The work plan includes the time frame, measurement tools and detailed process for gathering data.

Indicators: Measurable data that reveal whether individual participants have achieved success on a priority outcome.

Measurement tool: Written or electronic source of measurable indicator data. Examples include surveys, interview protocols, pick-list scales and measurement logs, which are completed in accordance with the outcome measurement plan.

Codified program activities: The quantity and duration of program activities and relationships needed to engage participants and help them achieve outcomes. Codified program activities include enrollment, program requirements and any necessary quality standards.

Theory of change: A clearly articulated organizational approach to creating social value that links strategy to program operations. This theory includes target population, outcomes, codified program activities, indicators, measurement tools and uses of data.

Logic model: One-page conceptual map showing how a program helps participants achieve outcomes. A logic model includes a description of participants, inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Founding Director, Capacity Institute at Black Ministerial Alliance