Understanding not just what has changed, but how

Slay, J. (2014). To maximize impact, evaluate more than just outcomes. Arabella Advisors Greater Good Blog. 17 June 2014, www.arabellaadvisors.com/2014/06/17/to-maximize-impact-evaluate-more-than-just-outcomes/

As this Knowledge Connect has shown, outcomes are the changes that matter. And there are many good reasons why we need to continue to focus on outcomes in order to make better decisions.  But the missing piece in this puzzle is that a focus on what changes is not enough: we need to know how changes happen.

In a short blog titled “To Maximize Impact, Evaluate More than Just Outcomes” Julie Slay, from Arabella Advisors, suggests that a focus on how organisations implement a program have important effects on all types of outcomes, including unintended consequences. This is critical as we recognise that the outcomes that matter will be different for different audiences (or stakeholders). For example, there are likely to be differences between the intended outcomes for a funder, the organisation and the primary beneficiaries from the same program.

Similarly to the advice of other authors, Slay notes the importance of measuring outcomes that are important to different stakeholder groups (not just the funder). Slay’s blog pushes our thinking to go beyond measuring, evaluating and (subsequently) managing to the outcomes activities create. She warns against having an unyielding focus on the intended outcomes of a funder, which may be far from what actually changes or what matters to different stakeholders.

There are also other unintended benefits of using measurement and evaluation to focus on how changes happen rather than just what changes have happened. A focus on how changes happen encourages critical inquiry, a chance to reflect on the underlying mechanisms or philosophy about how your machine (yes, your program, organisation or initative!) works. It can be challenging, but it could also be a trigger for cultural changes as it results in greater accountability and transparency about how you are able to achieve outcomes.

Simon Faivel
Director, SVA Consulting
Chair, Social Impact Measurement Network of Australia (SIMNA)

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