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For decades now, outcome evaluation has been a key aspect of planning proposals that win grants. It requires a systematic analysis of projects or initiatives as they unfold over time, from inputs and activities onward through outputs and outcomes. The net result is a logic model useful for virtually every element of an evaluation plan.

 

Input:

It’s helpful to think of an input as any resource necessary to do the work of a project. As such, an input can be human labor (paid or volunteer personnel), materials (equipment and supplies), finances (existing and future funding), and facilities (locations where project activities will occur). Most inputs must be in place and available for use before a project starts.

 

Activity:

An activity is a work task associated with a project. It may occur before a project starts (e.g., planning), during a project (e.g., implementing and monitoring), or after a project ends (e.g., continuing and close-out). Some activities are singular or discrete events (e.g., yearly conferences), others are continuous processes (e.g., classroom instruction), and yet others may be both (e.g., training). Rationales for selecting specific activities should reflect documented needs and proposed objectives; often they also must reflect research into best practices.

 

Output:

An output is a unit of production or a unit of service, and stated as a number. It is often the focus of a process objective. As units of production, outputs include numbers of newsletters published, numbers of blog articles posted, numbers of curricular units developed, numbers of workshops held, numbers of library books purchased, and so on. As units of service, they include numbers of students taught, numbers of staff trained, numbers of parents contacted, numbers of patients treated, and so on. Outputs do not indicate what measurable changes occurred in the users of the products or in the recipients of the services.

 

Outcome:

An outcome is an observable and measurable change that occurs in a pre-defined population of intended beneficiaries either during or after a project. Often it is expressed in terms of a change in knowledge or skill (short-term outcomes), or a change in behavior (mid-term outcomes), or a change in affect, condition, or status (long-term outcomes). An outcome objective focuses on what is expected to happen as a consequence of staff undertaking a set of activities and of intended beneficiaries participating in them.

 

Thus, increased knowledge in teaching engineering is an expected outcome of taking a course in it; being a high school teacher who completed such a course is an output. Again, a reduced annual rate of middle school bullying is an expected outcome of implementing a school-wide model anti-bullying program; holding 12 hour-long sessions for all school staff on applying the model is an output. And creating a positive school climate is an expected outcome of a comprehensive school reform initiative; installing 20 posters about civic virtues throughout every school is an output.

 

Performance Target:

As the subject of a well-formulated project objective, each desired outcome is a performance target, which typically may be stated as a number or a ratio or both. The best target is both feasible and ambitious. Grant recipients use outcome indicators to observe, measure, monitor, and evaluate their progress toward attaining each performance target.

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