18th October, 2017

Jargon-busting impact measurement, outcomes and indicators (explained by donuts!)

Are you struggling to work out the difference between outcomes and impact measurement? Or how to identify an indicator? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

There’s a lot of terminology around monitoring, evaluation and impact measurement. To make matters more confusing, sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. So when working with a new client I try to cut through this jargon and come to a common understanding of what is meant by measuring difference made.

I’ve done a bit of a dry explanation of the key terms and how they are interrelated, below. But stick with me; to fold in some fun to the mix I’ve used an example that perhaps we can all relate to – eating donuts!

Impact measurement

Impact describes the broad or long-term difference made to individuals, organisations, communities or society.  This can include savings to public budgets or changes in government policy.  To measure your impact, you need to measure attainment of outcomes and outputs, which are achieved by delivering your aims and objectives.

When measuring impact you should also measure causation (evidencing that change was achieved through your work).  But unless your work has a long-term effect, your time would be better spent focusing on measuring outcomes.

Aims, outcomes, objectives, inputs and outputs

Your aims (the changes you want to bring about) are realised when beneficiaries achieve outcomes (the specific changes that occur for users).  Your objectives are the things you do to achieve your aims.  To deliver them, you need inputs, which are your resources (i.e. materials and people).  Objectives can be broken down into activities (broad areas of your work) and outputs (the specific services you deliver to service users).

Indicators and measures

The essence of monitoring and evaluation is that you should be able to report if users are achieving outcomes and you are delivering outputs. To do so they need to be measurable.  To find out if they are measurable, you need to develop indicators (pieces of information or data that you collect to see if something is happening); indicators can apply to both outcomes and outputs.

To measure an indicator, you need a tool or information collection method (also sometimes called a measure).  Your methods could be quantitative (e.g. from surveys) or qualitative (e.g. through interviews, case studies and feedback). To save reinventing the wheel, there are over 100 impact and outcome measures on the Impact Hub, which is searchable by sector and budget.

All of this information can be brought together in a monitoring and evaluation framework.  There’s a simple downloadable framework for outcomes developed by Evaluation Support Scotland.

Still with me? Here’s where we enter the donut conundrum.

Explained by donuts, you say?

Imagine, if you will, that donuts are a huge problem to public health (not too much of a stretch, I agree). People are suffering diabetes, heart disease and other health complications because of a large volume of donuts eaten.   This is a major health problem; people need to eat fewer donuts … step forward Donuts Anonymous!  A project that aims to reduce the consumption of sugar and saturated fat amongst donut addicts.


Now this project is unlikely to get people to stop eating donuts (I’ll explain why in another post).  But I hope that the infographic is helpful at understanding the common terms and how they are connected, which is the first step in planning how to monitor and evaluate your service(s).

Crucially, if done well, it can give you a distinctive competitive advantage and will help to understand the difference your service(s) make.  You can then make adjustments that take you closer to achieving your sweet vision.

Time for some <herbal tea> coffee and a <rice cracker> donut!


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