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Outcomes: The big picture of youth work

By Samantha Grant

Does creating logic models make you sweat? Don't worry, you're not alone. Building logic models -- which depict the resources, activities, outputs and outcomes of a program -- has often been seen as a dry, scholarly activity. But I would argue that a logic model is an important document.

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, evaluation director

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

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  1. Sam,
    Thanks for noting the role and importance of logic models and getting to outcomes. As someone once said, there is nothing as practical as a good theory and logic models are just theories of change that can be used to improve practice. Especially when we move beyond inputs and simple outputs to a deeper understanding of outputs and outcomes. I would suggest that some of the outputs you note are really inputs like supplies and designing activities or curriculum. Outputs are the result of your inputs and things that you accomplish, like actually delivering the activities and number of youth who participate.
    The other important point is that there is increasing encouragement to focus on outcomes closer to the program and even moving some outcomes into the output category. For example, in social and emotional learning, one might consider a youth's ability to regulate their emotions and behaviors as an important skill and a moderate to long range outcome. One might also, however, assess the youth's ability to self-regulate in the program context as a near term outcome or even a direct output of the program.
    By moving things closer to the program and the program context, it makes it easier to see the connections between what we do and its quality and these types of proximal and context appropriate outcomes. Whether the program affects longer term regulation, you do not know. Nor do you know if it is going to generalize to other contexts. But, by being intentional about the way we design and implement programs and how we assess these things in our context we are both modeling them and letting young people practice them -- and do so in ways that lead to learning.
    What important outputs or short term outcomes do you or could you use to help make your program more results-oriented?

  2. Sam,
    Yes, I was in a meeting yesterday with another youth organization and asked the director "how do you know you do good work and where are you going?" We both paused for a moment and it was a great moment to reflect on exactly what they are trying to change. This further caused me to reflect on the value of this tool in developing programs. Thank you for unpacking this necessary step in programming for me. How was your first logic model? How did it look?

  3. Hi Josh,
    Thanks for the comment. I think it's important to take the time to think about the big picture in youth programs from time to time. As you suggested, it often brings clarity to what you are doing and why it really matters.
    I've actually pulled off some of the beginning logic models that I created for programs and laughed about them. Like everything, the more you do it the better you get. I've included these examples in my presentations just to demonstrate that the final product doesn't have to be perfect for the process to be meaningful.
    How about others?

  4. Hi Dale,
    Thanks for the clarification and the next level of detail on this topic. I would love to hear what others think about your important question:
    What important outputs or short term outcomes do you or could you use to help make your program more results-oriented?


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