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Aims, objectives and outcomes

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The importance of clarity before you start your monitoring and evaluation.

An organisation should be clear about its aims and objectives. Once aims and objectives are clear, it will be easier to agree on planned outputs, outcomes and impacts.

Aims

Aims are the changes that an organisation is trying to achieve.

Objectives

Objectives are the methods or the activities by which an organisation plans to achieve its aims.

The CES planning triangle is a helpful model for agreeing on aims and objectives, the outcomes and outputs that relate to them, and their indicators.

CES planning triangle

Description of diagram

In the CES planning triangle, the organisation's overall aim is directly linked to its impact. Objectives feed into the 'what we do' of the organisation and inform its outputs. Specific aims feed into the question of 'why we do it' and inform the organisation's outcomes.

Examples

Worked case examples for different types of voluntary organisations show how the planning triangle can help you plan, so that you can develop indicators that will be the basis of your monitoring system.

Outcomes

Outcomes are the changes, benefits, learning or other effects that happen as a result of your work. They can be wanted or unwanted, expected or unexpected. For example, the outcomes for users of a refugee centre might include:

  • improved English language skills
  • improved access to services
  • reduced isolation.

Outcomes can occur in many places, so it is important to think through who or what your organisation is aiming to affect: what differences you are planning to make. For example, change could occur in:

  • individuals
  • families
  • communities
  • organisations
  • the environment
  • policy.

Why are outcomes important?

From the 1990s there have been increasing moves in the UK public sector and the voluntary and community sector to address outcomes as a key part of performance measurement. Public funders and commissioners are reporting against government outcome targets or against outcomes frameworks, such as the Every Child Matters framework. So it is important for them to obtain related outcome information from the organisations they fund or commission. The BIG Lottery Fund describes itself as an ‘outcomes funder,’ and other funders also establish an outcomes frameworks for their funding programmes.

Many non profit organisations also welcome the increased focus on what is they are achieving for their users, and have found an outcomes approach can improve the quality of their work.

‘All clients now have an individual outcomes profile and are tracked through the organisation. The organisation has defined core outcomes and all funding and new projects are designed with measurable and achievable outcomes.’ - Drop-in centre for young people.

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