• What is an outcome?

  • An Aim or an Outcome?

  • Outcomes, Outputs and Targets

  • Soft or Hard Outcomes?

  • Project or Strategic Outcomes?


What is an Outcome?

You are probably reading this because you have a project or an idea for a project. This part of the Toolkit will help you to look at developing and planning your project and be clear about what outcomes you want to achieve. This Toolkit sets out some of the main steps that you will have to take to plan and manage a project using an outcomes approach.

This Toolkit is aimed at people developing or taking part in a project.   Sometime project outcomes need to fit in with more strategic outcomes, and we describe how your project might fit in with ‘population outcomes’ used in Results Based Accountability.

We cover:

  • understanding and explaining the need you want to meet

  • being clear about your overall aim and how your project will meet the need

  • measuring your success

  • learning from what you have achieved to improve your project

This will be useful for a wide range of people but it is aimed at those who are new to the outcomes approach and want to find out more. For this reason we provide further information, this guide is  available on-line and gives lots of examples and sources of support.

An Outcome is ‘the way a thing turns out; a consequence’

So an outcome is the end result.  The term outcome can be used to describe the end result of:

  • a strategic programme
  • your whole project
  • a piece of work within a project

You will need to be clear when using the word outcome what you mean. You will need to make sure when others use the term outcome, you are clear what they mean by the term.


Jargon Box

People will use different words for the same things, and the same words for different things! We will talk about using a method called ‘results based accountability’ or ‘RBA’. In RBA an outcome is defined as ‘A condition of well-being for children, adults, families or communities’. For example, ‘older people in my community will be active and healthy’

An Aim or an Outcome?

When we are planning to do something, we usually start by looking at what we want to achieve or the outcome. This usually means a positive outcome such as ‘I want children in my community to be healthier’. A common approach to planning your project is to use Aims, Objectives and Actions (these can also be called Activities or Tasks).

An Aim ‘a purpose or intention; a desired outcome’

So an ‘aim’ is what your projects wants to achieve. It can be described as the outcome of your project. In this Toolkit we use project outcomes to describe the end result of a piece of work within your project. We use aims to describe the overall purpose of your project.

Jargon Box

Be careful, RBA refers to outcomes only when talking about whole populations. It uses the term outputs when describing what happens as the result of a project or service.
An Objective ‘breaks down aims into clearly defined steps with a beginning and end that can be measured.’
Your objectives can be broken down into more specific actions that can be achieved within an agreed period.

Jargon Box

Aims and objectives are often used to write an ‘action plan’. An action plan is usually in the form of What you will do, why you are doing it, who will do it, where and when (or What, Why, Who, Where and When!).

SMART Objectives: SMART is also used to help you to develop objectives. It stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Do you find this confusing? We do, so we just used SAM instead - Specific, Achievable and Measureable).


Outcomes, Outputs and Targets

An Output is ‘the amount of something produced.’
To measure an output is to measure what you have done or the effort you have made. To measure an outcome is to measure the end result, not the work involved in getting there.

A community project in Talygarn was paid for putting on courses in their community. They had to put on 10 courses, that was their target.
They put on all the courses and met their targets. The output was 10 courses delivered.
However, no-one turned up!
There was an output – training was delivered. But there was no outcome. No-one turned up and no-one learned anything.

What should have they been asked to do?
A starting point would have been to count the number of people turning up to take part on the course! It would also have been useful to know how many people finished the course.
But if we want to know what the outcome is, we want to find out what people gained from the course. This could be confidence, meeting new people, learning a new skill or gaining a qualification.

A Target is ‘an objective or result towards which efforts are directed.’

Targets are often very specific, set by you or others, that you aim to achieve within a set time. Targets can be useful in setting a clear measure of what you aim to do by when. However, they can cause problems when you concentrate only on the target. For example, when there are too many targets, it is difficult to decide which is the most important. Sometimes people concentrate only on the target, and sometimes forget about why the target was set in the first place. Targets are best used as a tool to achieve your outcome, not an end in themselves.

Performance Indicators are ‘key bits of information that are used to define and measure performance.’

People have tried to improve the use of targets by looking for better measures that tell you and others more about what you are providing. That is, they are good indicators of how well you are doing. People use the terms performance indicators (or PI’s) or key performance indicators (or kpi’s).

Soft or Hard Outcomes?

A hard outcome is easy to fix, define and measure. It may be number of qualifications gained or jobs taken up. As a result people have often steered towards using hard outcomes to show they are making a difference because they are thought to be easier to demonstrate.
A soft outcome measure changes in behaviour or confidence. Soft outcomes are often based on asking the opinions of individuals you work with. Some people may feel these outcomes are less important or less robust. We would argue the opposite, as they report on what difference you have made by the people who benefit from your project or service.

This Toolkit will provide you with ways of capturing and measuring soft outcomes. Often when working with people and communities it is easy for you to see the change that has occurred as a result of your Work. However it can be much more difficult to provide hard evidence. This toolkit will help you bridge that gap between individual detailed case studies and hard outcomes. Sometimes soft outcomes are referred to ‘user reported outcomes’.


  • A soft outcomes in the Talygarn Community Project could be 15 people felt they had learnt a new skill.
  • A hard outcome could have been 15 people attended and 5 gained a qualification.

    Project or Strategic Outcomes?

    What is an outcome? Outcomes that are the changes or difference that your project can make over time are called project outcomes. An easy way to think of them is that they are the result of what you do, rather than the activities or services you provide. For people, this might be things like improved health, new skills, more confidence or self-esteem, or getting a job. Some projects focus more on communities, the environment or organisations. The outcomes might relate directly to them (such as tidier communities or more biodiversity) or changes in people that help benefit them (such as more awareness of environmental issues, reduced fear of crime, or more community participation).
    Your project might apply for funding under a larger programme or strategy which already have included within them wider ‘strategic’ or ‘programme’ outcomes. Your project will need to show not only how it meets your own project outcomes, but also these strategic or programme outcomes.


    Population Outcomes using Results Based Accountability

    Results Based Accountability (RBA) using the term ‘population outcomes’. This Toolkit uses RBA as the method of developing a thorough OUTCOMES PROCESS. This is because:

  • It starts with looking at outcomes.
  • It looks at outcomes in relation to people and communities
  • It is about wellbeing
  • It is a clear process that works
  • It is easy to follow

    Jargon Box


    In RBA an outcome is used differently to describe the outcome of a whole population and is used to describe ‘A condition of well-being for children, adults, families or communities’. For example, ‘older people in my community will be active and healthy’. RBA refers to outcomes only when talking about whole populations. It uses the term outputs when describing what happens as the result of a project or service instead of the term project outcome.


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