“Have we changed the world yet?” – That is a great question, but very complicated for an evaluation to answer. Have you changed someone’s world – potentially. Evaluation is a complicated component of nonprofit management, especially since whenever we get asked questions about evaluation our initial response begins with “It depends…”
A lot goes into providing a direct answer to an evaluation questions because in order to respond properly it needs to be known what they intended program outcomes are, what is being measured, how the program is being delivered, and much more.
However, we are here to give you permission to take a deep breath and understand the fact that you do not have to save the entire planet. It takes a village, and in this case your program is just one villager. Therefore, be realistic on what you can accomplish with your specific service area and be proud of the change you are helping to create in your part of the world.
Often times within evaluation, organizations are attempting to measure large scale change. This is next to impossible, especially when your program is either one week, one day, or one hour.
Therefore, we want to share three different types of outcomes that you can seek to measure within your program. You do not need to measure for all three types of outcomes, because in some cases it is impossible to measure all three.
An immediate outcome can be measure during a program or right when it is complete. For example, imagine that you hold a reading program for families and educate caregivers on the fact that 90% of brain development occurs before the age of five and that young children gain a larger vocabulary through regular reading. One the one-hour program is complete you give a brief survey asking whether or not the caregiver knew those facts ahead of time. Your data may show that 65% of caregivers did not, therefore an outcome may be “65% of caregivers were unaware of increase vocabulary their child could gain through regular reading” – A change in knowledge.
A short-term outcome is something that can happen a few weeks after participants in a program. For example, a middle school implements an anti-bullying program during the homeroom period for four weeks as a result of increased referrals to the office for bullying cases. Upon completion of the program a short-term outcome could be that the office has a decrease in bullying referrals and teachers report a increase is visible kindness within their classroom.
Long term outcomes occur either months or years down the line. These outcomes are often the hardest to capture since it is expensive and time consuming. Even if you have the funding and time, it can be challenging some individuals may not tell you they move, or they may not be interested in participating in the evaluation any further. An example of a long-term outcome could be the length of employment for clients that participated in a job training program. Your outcome may be that individuals are gainfully employed after your program, and your long-term outcome may be that they are still employed six months after completing your program.
We hope that this clears up any confusion around outcomes. One type of outcome is not necessarily better than the other, but if your program has one outcome within the three categories shared within this blog you are cooking with a great recipe.