Both outputs and outcomes are direct results from a project. The two are similar enough that they are often lumped together, but there are some key differences between outputs and outcomes.
- Directly produced by the project; as long as you completed the project activities, you will create an output
- Typically tangible and easy to measure
- Not the reason why the project was necessary
- Produced from the project outputs; just completing the project activities does not guarantee that the outcomes were also achieved
- Typically more intangible and harder to measure
- The reason why the project is necessary
Examples of project outputs and outcomes:
|Disaster relief||Provided 20 blankets to hurricane victims||Beneficiaries are warm, more comfortable, and are less likely to become sick|
|Health||Supplied 2,000 bed nets to families in rural India||Lowered Malaria outbreaks, increasing life expectancy and quality of life for affected children|
|Education||Trained 50 primary school teachers||These 50 teachers educated 1,250 pupils, enabling these children to find better jobs and move on to higher-level education|
|Environment||Released a research paper on the effects of climate change on food prices||Galvanized increased support for stricter environmental laws|
|Human rights||Organized an international conference for indigenous peoples around the world||Provided a safe space for human rights leaders to meet, share information, and partner to improve the efficacy of their actions|
It is typically harder to create the desired outcome than output. For example, buying and shipping 20 blankets to hurricane survivors is not too difficult. However, if the blankets get wet before they reach the beneficiaries, then the desired outcome cannot occur even though the output was achieved. Similarly, just organizing a conference may not lead to action or any tangible result.
Many NGOs focus on outputs because they are easier to measure and prove successful. However, the best NGOs are the ones that know how to emphasize and evaluate outcomes, because those are the direct changes in the lives of beneficiaries that are most important.