What is the difference between outcomes and outputs?
An outcome refers to the result you are trying to achieve whereas an output is what happened as a result of an activity. Put differently, the outcome is the effect of what you did (output).
For example, say the outcome is that “People with mental health issues have better access to housing and employment”. One strategy to achieve this outcome (or the service itself) might be an employment matching service. An output for this service may then be the number of people the service sees or places into employment in a given time period.
What is the change that is being made here? Haven’t we always striven for outcomes?
Certainly, outcomes are what we all hope to achieve as a result of doing the work that we do within the community. However, the change here is around where the focus and administrative requirement lies. Often it can be very time consuming to continually collect data such as ‘number of clients seen’, ‘number of people attending x workshop’, ‘number of hits on website’, when it is not clear how these outputs necessarily link to our desired outcomes. It takes a lot of time away from actually doing the work to achieve the outcomes when we are continually reporting on these small pieces of a much larger picture.
The move to outcomes means that instead of spending time collecting so much data that may or may not be relevant; we focus on collecting the data that is relevant, and finding the most appropriate data to evidence the achievement of particular outcomes. This is the major change that is being made here.
How am I meant to measure outcomes?
There are a number of different ways to measure outcomes, ultimately depending on the outcomes themselves, and what is good for your organisation and your funding agency. There are a number of processes or tools that can assist in measuring outcomes. We will post more outcomes tools soon.
Is measuring outcomes going to mean I will have to change the way I collect information?
It may do – this remains to be seen. Until the outcomes are actually decided upon between your organisation and your funding agency, it is hard to say how you will collect the information to evidence those individual outcomes. The important thing to keep in mind is that we need to focus on collecting the most relevant information for the outcomes that we are trying to achieve. That is where most of the effort should go, rather than reporting on any particular output or piece of data that may relate in some vague way to the outcome.
What if my funding agency is still asking for outputs?
This is still OK in many cases. The move to outcomes based reporting is going to take some time. Until we can ascertain exactly what information is appropriate for reporting on our outcomes, we will still need to report on outputs. The important thing to keep in mind is to focus on finding the right outputs to report, rather than reporting any and all outputs. In this case, it is not a cause for alarm if your funding agency is still asking for some output data. However, you should have some say in reporting on that output data, especially if you do not feel that it reflects the achievement of your outcomes.
Has your funding agency asked for fewer outputs than in previous contracts? If so, then this is a good sign! As per above, the transition to outcomes based reporting will take time, so if your funding agency has removed some of the outputs they may usually ask for, then this is indicative of the transition to the most appropriate method to measure outcomes.
The only time you should be concerned about your funding agency asking for output data at is if –
• You haven’t been involved in the decision to collect data for a particular output, and collecting that data is costly and time consuming for you;
• The data does not appear to be relevant to your achieving the outcome objectives of your service agreement.
What is the right number of outputs to report on in a contract?
There is no right number of outputs to report on in a contract. The number of outputs to report on should be relative to the required outcomes and the complexity of the outcomes. Obviously, the more complex the outcome, the greater the reporting requirement. A fair assessment would be that if it is taking you days on end to compile the data required for your report, then you may be reporting on too many outputs. This would indicate that your administrative burden might be too great, and in accordance with the DCSP Policy, you should discuss this with your funding agency.