Outcomes are the fundamental difference that a process makes, its overall results and impacts. Outcomes are more specific than ‘purpose’ and are the clear statement of exactly what is sought from the process.
Possible outcomes include:
- Improved personal and / or working relationships;
- Wider circle of responsibility for decisions and actions;
- Agreement on purpose and direction of a project or programme, or new policy;
- Identification of issues, benefits and drawbacks;
- Generation of new ideas;
- New formal partnerships;
- Defusing conflict to enable progress to be made;
- Creation / enhancement of social capital;
- Improved services for people;
- Policy change;
- Cost savings;
- Capacity building and learning (individual and organisational);
- Building overt support for a new idea or initiative;
- Behaviour change.
Different methods are designed to produce different types of outcome, so identifying the desired outcomes helps to identify which method is most likely to deliver those outcomes. This is therefore a crucial part of the planning process. Identifying and agreeing the desired outcomes from a process helps:
- Choose the right technique to get the outcomes wanted;
- Ensure that overall objectives are not lost sight of as the process goes on;
- Deal with the likely short-term impacts and results so that you are best placed to get what is wanted in the long term.
Primary and secondary outcomes
It is useful to differentiate between ‘primary’ (essential) and ‘secondary’ (nice to have) outcomes. For example, a primary outcome may be policy change and a secondary one could be improved understanding among participants, or vice versa. Doing this work at the start should help to keep the main focus of the exercise clear as it progresses, and stop it being sidetracked into secondary concerns. Prioritising secondary outcomes at the expense of primary outcomes is often hard to avoid because of a subconscious desire to meet immediate needs, such as networking, but it will lead to frustration at the end if there has been no progress on the main purpose of the project.
Short and long term outcomes
It is useful to differentiate between the outcomes of the specific process itself, and the longer-term outcomes that may depend on decisions and actions outside the scope of the specific process, but which the process may affect. This should enable proper planning of how exactly the outcomes from the process are taken forward and acted upon effectively.