4. Difference between an outcome and an output

Number 4 in 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. Resources below.

In outcomes theory, all interventions are conceptualized as having an underlying implicit or explicit outcomes model. Outcomes 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 have 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 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. There is also an outcomes theory principle on how the best way to describe what one is getting at with terms such as outputs and outcomes is to fully specify them in terms of the features of boxes that can appear within outcomes models

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