If you follow a common approach to logic modeling used in the human services and other sectors, your three right most columns contain your project’s short-term, medium-term and long-term outcomes. We prefer to call short-term outcomes effects; medium-term outcomes, outcomes; and long-term outcomes, impacts. Many programs follow a similar approach. Short-term outcomes include the immediate results of the intervention and have to do with how people and systems have been affected by a program. Medium term outcomes generally describe what people are doing differently, whereas long-term outcomes get at the impacts of the changes. The table below provides some examples:
|Parents develop an understanding of their role in their child's schooling||Parents report dedicating more time to their children’s education||Improved attendance
|Teachers gain knowledge of new approaches to classroom management||Improvement in teachers' classroom management skills||Improved academic outcomes for children|
|Soon to be released incarcerated men learn strategies of communicating effectively with their spouses/partners||Couples report better marital satisfaction||Men are less likely to be re-arrested|
|Students sign an anti-bullying pledge||Decrease in reported incidents of bullying||Improved school climate|
|Community leaders demonstrate better skill at town meetings||Town meetings run more effectively and more viewpoints are heard||Overall improvement in community relations|
We’ve heard some people describe the differences as follows: Effects are what you’d expect to see, outcomes are what you’d like to see and impacts are what you hope to see. Effects are often related to the development of new knowledge. Outcomes are connected with new behaviors and practices, and impacts with how those new behaviors and practices affect people and systems. Evaluating a program’s effects is pretty straightforward. You ask people what they know or find out about or whether they’ve taken a set of action steps. Outcomes can be little more challenging because in order to really find out if behavior has changed, you really have to observe it. Of course it’s possible to rely on self-reported change or to use a validated behavioral inventory (common in mental health and a few other fields), but in many instances, direct observation remains the best approach. As we move further down the outcome chain however another problem arises, the problem of attribution.
Take another look at the table above. Improved attendance? Better academic outcomes? Reductions in arrests? These kinds of things have many causes. School policies change. Teachers come and go. Even the weather can impact attendance. Anyone with a background in program management can easily fill in possible alternate explanations for the observed impacts described in these examples. So then how do you draw a line from programs to impacts? We’ll have an answer to that in our next post. Here’s a hint; we’re big advocates for qualitative methods. If you’d like to be notified when it appears, just send us your contact information using the form in the right-hand column of this page.