A colleague asked me what I considered an output in a statewide program we were discussing. This is a really good example of assumptions and how they can blind side an individual–in this case me. Once I (figuratively) picked myself up, I proceeded to explain how this terminology applied to the program under discussion. Once the meeting concluded, I realized that perhaps a bit of a refresher was in order. Even the most seasoned evaluators can benefit from a reminder every so often.
So OK–inputs, outputs, outcomes.
As I’ve mentioned before, Ellen Taylor-Powell, former UWEX Evaluation specialist has a marvelous tutorial on logic modeling. I recommend you go there for your own refresher. What I offer you here is a brief (very) overview of these terms.
Logic models whether linear or circular are composed of various focus points. Those focus points include (in addition to those mention in the title of this post) the situation, assumptions, and external factors. Simply put, the situation is a what is going on–the priorities, the needs, the problems that led to the program you are conducting–that is program with a small p (we can talk about sub and supra models later).
Inputs are those resources you need to conduct the program. Typically, they are lumped into personnel, time, money, venue, equipment. Personnel covers staff, volunteers, partners, any stakeholder. Time is not just your time–also the time needed for implementation, evaluation, analysis, and reporting. Money (speaks for itself). Venue is where the program will be held. Equipment is what stuff you will need–technology, materials, gear, etc.
Outputs are often classified into two parts–first, participants (or target audience) and the second part, activities that are conducted. Typically (although not always), those activities are counted and are called bean counts.. In the example that started this post, we would be counting the number of students who graduated high school; the number of students who matriculated to college (either 2 or 4 year); the number of students who transferred from 2 year to 4 year colleges; the number of students who completed college in 2 or 4 years; etc. This bean count could also be the number of classes offered; the number of brochures distributed; the number of participants in the class; the number of (fill in the blank). Outputs are necessary and not sufficient to determine if a program is being effective. The field of evaluation started with determining bean counts and satisfactions.
Outcomes can be categorized as short term, medium/intermediate term, or long term. Long term outcomes are often called impacts. (There are those in the field who would classify impacts as something separate from an outcome–a discussion for another day.) Whatever you choose to call the effects of your program, be consistent–don’t use the terms interchangeably; it confuses the reader. What you are looking for as an outcome is change–in learning; in behavior; in conditions. This change is measured in the target audience–individuals, groups, communities, etc.