5. Escaping the outcomes terminological madness

Number 5 in Dr Paul Duignan's Three Minute Outcomes video series. There is often endless discussion in outcomes work about the definition of various terms such as outputs, intermediate outcomes, outcomes, impacts, results, goals etc. used within outcomes systems. These discussions can go on and on and end up with frustrated people talking past each other. There is a way through this terminological madness.

Outcomes theory offers a way through this terminological madness by allowing us to define the boxes that go into visual outcomes models without having to use the traditional names for the types of boxes. It does this by defining the types of boxes on the basis of their features: relevance; sequential position; influenceability; measurability; controllability; attributability; and accountability.

This more technical approach means that everyone can be clear about exactly the type of box that is being referred to by a particular term. If people understand the features of the types of boxes being referred to, then it ultimately does not matter what they call them as long as they consistently use the same name.

A practical application of this outcomes theory principle is that funders when requested by providers to give them their 'outcomes' 'results' etc. can ask that their funder gives them a description of what they want in terms of Duignan's outcomes theory features. This means that the provider no longer has to play the back and forth game where it produces a list of 'outcomes' or whatever and the funder tells them that they are not what they want but is not particularly clear in specifying exactly what they are after.


For more discussion of this issue see the relevant outcomes theory principle on how you can fully specify outcomes terms by using the features of boxes that can appear within outcomes models


Duignan, P. (2009). Using Outcomes Theory to Solve Important Conceptual and Practical Problems in Evaluation, Monitoring and Performance Management Systems. American Evaluation Association Conference, Orlando, Florida, 11-14 November 2009.

© Parker Duignan 2013-2018. Parker Duignan is a trading name of The Ideas Web Ltd.