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Difference between an outcome and an output

Posted: December 9, 2016 at 6:21 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

G U E S T  A R T I C L E

Number 4 in outcomes theorist Dr Paul Duignan’s Three Minute Outcomes video series. The distinction between an outcome and an output is important in many types of outcomes system. An outcomes system is the generic name for strategic planning, performance management, impact assessment, risk management and related organizational systems).

In outcomes theory, all interventions are conceptualized as having an underlying implicit or explicit outcomes modelOutcomes are the last boxes on the right-hand side of such models. Outputs are boxes within the model which have the characteristic of being controllable by a party involved in an intervention. Outputs are often referred to as goods and services produced by an organization or program. Because they are controllable by a particular party, outputs have the advantage that they are always attributable to that particular party. This means that merely measuring that boxes which are outputs occurred tells you who made them happen – the organization or project responsible for them. This is not necessarily the case for outcomes.

An interesting question is whether, within an outcomes model, you can have an output which also happens to be an outcome. Within outcomes theory this is possible and I will talk about this fascinating issue in a later video within the Three Minute Outcomes video series.


For more discussion of how the mere measurement of a non-controllable box within an outcomes model does not necessarily say anything about which party made it happen, see the relevant outcomes theory principle.

About the author:

Dr. Paul Duignan

International strategy, outcomes and evaluation specialist. PhD in outcomes and evaluation, Fulbright Senior Scholar, undertaken assignments in most sectors for government agencies and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “In my outcomes work I’m trying to provide a theoretical basis for thinking about strategy, outcomes, performance management and evaluation across all sectors. In my applied work I then apply those principles working with organizations to make them, and the world, a better place.” 

 View Paul’s full profile on Linkedin. For more information visit Company website.

This article has been produced with permission. Title picture is not associated with the original writing.


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