The movement towards outcomes-based services in the disability services sector is a clear trend. To a large degree, however, it’s only the trend that’s clear. Our collective understanding of outcomes is often limited within the sector and even once we’ve mastered the difference between goals, outputs, outcomes, etc. we still struggle with identifying the right outcomes to track – the ones which actually show our impact.
Within the human service sector, outcomes are generally defined as the demonstrable changes or improvements we make in the lives of those we serve. Changes may be made in a variety of life ‘domains’ such as attitude, behaviour, skills, quality of life, etc. It seems relatively straightforward until we start to develop our service outcomes and performance indicators.
Service outcomes should tell a clear story about the impact your organization has on the lives of people and should be easily ‘provable.’ Choosing outcomes with a number of ‘variables’ in their achievement will result in more questions than answers and will not showcase the organization’s strengths well. Likewise, choosing outcomes which require extensive new reporting mechanisms may prove to be a significant burden to the organization and impact negatively on actual service delivery.
There are a number of paradoxes and dilemmas in practice which make it difficult to measure outcomes and show cause and effect relationships. Time, consideration (and even a couple of ‘test models’) are required in order to determine the outcomes that your organization achieves well – or hopes to achieve better. How you state, demonstrate and measure those outcomes is equally important in order to show your value to your funders – and avoid burying your staff in new reporting requirements.