It can help you build a results-based program and engage in a dialogue about what is important. Even if you don't produce the full-blown logic model, I want to highlight two core pieces of one that are essential to your program: outputs and outcomes.
Outputs are defined as the products and services which result from the completion of activities within an intervention. In our programs, this is often the people and the activities. You often hear people talking about outputs to convey a program's reach. For instance, "300 youth took part in an environmental education program," or "we delivered 75 programs to more than 500 participants."
In contrast, outcomes are results or changes from the program such as changes in knowledge, awareness, skills, attitudes, behavior, practice, decision-making, policies, social action, or condition.
Change is the key word here. Outcomes look at the changes that you expect to see in your participants because they participated in your program. Outcomes are often developed on three levels: short term, medium term, and long term.
Too often in youth programs, we are overly focused on the outputs. We obsess about having the right supplies, making engaging activities, and getting the right participants to come to the program. Of course these things matter, but if we are not intentional about why we are creating these programs, we lose sight of the big picture of youth work. This is where outcomes are important. You need to think about and build your programming around the changes that you hope to see in your participants.
Do you want youth to increase their engineering design skills or establish healthy eating behaviors or build 21st century skills? Depending on the outcomes of your program, you will design vastly different activities. So take the time to design meaningful outcomes first, and then worry about the outputs. Intentional program design matters!
How have you been successful in building meaningful outcomes for your program? Have you noticed the difference when you designed a youth program with outcomes in mind?
-- Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation
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