It is important to distinguish between the outputs and outcomes of a process. We define outputs as the tangible products of a process, such as reports, meetings and leaflets, which are useful in themselves but do not usually meet the full purpose of the process. Examples of outputs include:
- Information (e.g. new information created as an input to a workshop and/or information from meetings)
- Meetings or workshops held with different groups
- Surgeries (i.e. one-to-one discussions to share problems, get advice etc)
- New research findings.
Defining the outputs is a crucial part of designing the process because it helps:
- The process designer choose the right method to get the outputs wanted, as different participatory methods are designed to produce different types of outputs
- Helps everyone think through how the outputs will achieve the outcomes (“how will this meeting help achieve our overall outcomes?”) and therefore
- Ensures the right outputs are produced at the right time.
Outputs can be seen as the building blocks that help to create the desired outcomes and the success of an exercise can therefore never be judged only on the outputs: the holding of a meeting does not necessarily mean full achievement of the objectives of the process.
Some outputs do, however, have intrinsic value regardless of whether they contribute to the overall outcomes. Exchanging information, for example, can help to build trust among participants even if the information itself is of no particular value. Similarly, simply having a meeting can sometimes be more important than what the meeting achieves because of the opportunity to build or strengthen relationships. Good process design means keeping an eye out for intangible as well as tangible gains.