In the social sector, it's important to measure outcomes as well as outputs.
Outcomes are what you want or expect to happen as a consequence of a service. Outputs are the things or activities produced.
In a programme to improve the mental health of the long-term unemployed, the improved wellbeing of the clients after treatment would be the desired outcome and the number of sessions held or clients treated would be the output.
Specifying and measuring outcomes, rather than just outputs:
As Results Based Accountability (RBA) is the outcomes framework that is most widely used by government agencies and NGO providers, this guide uses the structure and language of the RBA framework when discussing outcomes.
Under RBA there are two levels of outcome:
Population-level outcomes are the outcomes or results for an entire population. A 'population' could be:
No single provider or programme is responsible for achieving a population-level outcome. However, the services they deliver should contribute to achieving a population level outcome.
When you begin a procurement activity the population-level outcomes will generally already be known.
Client-level outcomes are the outcomes achieved by the clients of a particular programme, service or intervention. Sectors, agencies, and providers are accountable for client level outcomes, through accountability documents such as Agency Statements of Intent, approved business cases or contracts.
Client level outcomes can be determined through the earlier stages of the commissioning process, or in the planning phase of the procurement lifecycle using one of three approaches, often in conjunction with development of other performance measures:
The risk profile and strategic importance of the programme or contract, and how much it will cost, generally influence the decision about the approach.
As part of the client outcomes development process you should be clear about:
Outcome-based specifications should be written in performance terms, which focus on the outcome required. Describe what needs to be achieved rather than exactly how it should be done.
A key consideration when drafting the specification is whether you are the subject matter expert and able to develop a detailed service specification to be delivered to achieve the client outcomes. If the purchasing agency is not the subject matter expert you should provide flexibility within the specification around how the programme or service is delivered to achieve the required outcomes. For example, you might specify that the programme must be delivered in a way that is culturally appropriate, rather than detailing precisely what that means.
As a buyer, you should not fall into the trap of being overly prescriptive and specifying detailed requirements. For example, do not require the provider to employ two staff with X qualifications to undertake Y duties, when it is the outcome for the client that is most important.
In most cases, you will be specifying requirements for outcomes. However, you will also need to consider whether specifying and measuring outputs is going to be required for your procurement activity. This will depend on what the outcomes are and what the service is likely to be. You should ask yourself the following questions:
Examples of outputs include:
For additional information on developing outcomes refer to:
The Compass: Your Guide to Social Impact Measurement
Results-Based Accountability Implementation Guide
Results-based accountability videos