About This Series
Publication Date: January 2010
What Are Performance Measurement and Program Evaluation?
What Are the Basic Steps?
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What Are the Basic Steps?

Identify Outcomes

Program evaluation uses outcomes, which are often measures of performance, for determining the degree of program change. Outcomes reflect the changes in service experienced by a program’s participants and progress toward the program’s goals. Outcomes also describe the consequences of your program activities or intervention. Measures are data that can be used to determine whether program objectives have been achieved. A measure is a specific (quantitative) piece of information (i.e., data are numeric and consist of frequency counts, percentages, or other statistics) that provides evidence of your outcomes and helps you assess your program’s progress toward its stated goals. Measures are simply data that demonstrate what is occurring, not what caused the occurrence (Burt et al., 1997).

Measuring outcomes is fundamental to program evaluation. Essentially, it helps answer the questions, “Did the intervention work? Is your program employing the right activities to meet its program requirements, client needs, and program goals?” Exhibit 3 presents an example of how to think about the relationship between outcomes and measures.

Exhibit 3
Example of Outcomes and Measures
Outcome What change are you measuring? Increased understanding of the needs of victims.
Measure What specific piece of data shows the change made by your program? Number of appropriate referrals.

The rest of this section is divided into two parts:

The Four Rs

In identifying outcomes and measures, keep in mind the four Rs:

  • Relevance: Are the expected outcomes relevant to the program? (This is the “Does it make sense?” test.)
  • Reality: Can you measure what you want to know? Can you get the data you need?
  • Reliability: Are the data accurate? Are the data of high quality?
  • Resources: Do you have the staff, the money, and the time to gather the data?

Developing and Generating Outcomes and Measures

Measures of outcomes represent the extent to which a program is effective in producing its intended outcomes and achieving desired results. To illustrate a broad view of program effectiveness, measures of outcomes are usually expressed as immediate or short-term, intermediate, and long-term outcomes. Immediate or short-term outcomes are the changes (e.g., knowledge, attitudes, behaviors) that occur early in the delivery of program services or interventions. Intermediate outcomes are results that emerge after immediate outcomes, but before long-term outcomes. Long-term outcomes are the overall intended changes or results you are trying to achieve. Please keep this information in mind as you develop and generate your own outcomes and measures.

Here are the general steps for developing outcomes and measures:

  • Identify desired outcomes. First, look to your program’s mission and goals. Ask yourself, “What activities are we doing? Why are we doing these particular activities?” The answer to the “Why” is usually an outcome. For instance, if one overall goal is to increase law enforcement’s ability to make appropriate referrals for trafficking victims, what are the benefits to your target population?
  • Choose desired outcomes and prioritize them. Specify a target goal on which to base your outcomes. For example, providing training to law enforcement on how to better identify trafficking victims may be one way of meeting your goal and prioritizing your manner of achieving a goal.
  • Identify what information you need to measure the outcomes. For example, one way of measuring whether law enforcement’s understanding of the needs of trafficking victims has increased (outcome) is to look at the number of appropriate service referrals law enforcement makes for trafficking victims after you have trained the officers (impact).
  • Decide how that information can be efficiently and realistically gathered. For example, think about what documentation (e.g., grant applications, monthly reports) or personnel can help you support your outcomes.

Tips To Remember!

Be sure that you don’t confuse outcomes and outputs:

  • Outcomes are the changes that result from the program or its activities (e.g., graduating from a shelter to transitional housing).
  • Outputs are units of services (e.g., the number of people who went through the program).