Outcomes theory is:

Based on defining the set of building-blocks of all outcomes systems and showing how these relate to each other.

The theory identifies a set of principles which can be used for anlayzing outcomes systems of any type.

The new and elegant way of thinking about, and working with, outcomes strategy and results of any kind.

Outcomes theory provides the best guide for building great outcomes systems, and the best way to diagnose and quickly fix broken ones.

Academic references to outcomes theory: Duignan (2009d; 2009a; 2008d; 2008b; 2004a).*

OK. . . so what's an outcomes system?

Outcomes systems are know by names such as: strategic planning, performance management, results-based management, accountability, KPI lists, risk management, monitoring, evaluation, best practice sharing, enterprise portfolio managment etc.

Any system for identifying, prioritizing, aligning, measuring, attributing, holding parties to account for, contracting for, and delegating any type of outcomes or results.

Outcomes systems are the machine that lies at the heart of every human endeavor harnessing human effort to bring about better outcomes in any sector, in any country, at any time.

If our outcomes systems are broken, our world ends up broken.

Right. . .what are the components of outcome theory?

3. A set of principles for how the building-blocks interact with each other.

4. Duignan's rules for building outcomes models (used in building-block one).

5. List of possible impact evaluation design types (used in building-block five).

1. The concept of an outcomes system theorized across all sectors and topics.

2. Duignan's Outcomes System Diagram showing the building-blocks of all outcomes systems.

6. List of economic evaluation design types (used in building-block six).

7. A set of principles for working with outcomes systems.

8. A set of definitions used in outcomes theory.

What's so useful about Duignan's Outcomes System Diagram?

In contrast to many other approaches, it manages to reach across the different outcomes-related disciplines and professions (e.g. strategic planning, performance management, impact evaluation). Traditionally these professions have viewed outcomes work from within their own siloed perspective and ignored some of the key issues that need to be addressed.

Duignan's diagram identifies ALL seven of the essential organizational building-blocks needed to effectively identify, measure and work with outcomes.

Among other things, Duignan's Diagram lets you quickly identify the logical relationships that exist between each of an outcomes system's building-blocks, cutting away the conceptual confusion which plagues much outcomes-related work.

It also lets you derive a set of principles to help you work coherently with outcomes systems of any type.

Got it. . . So what can outcomes theory explain?

Why focusing too early on SMART* objectives in business is a strategic mistake.

Why traditional strategic plans are a total waste of time compared to a visual line-of-sight plan.

Why just measuring not-controllable indicators doesn't prove you've changed them.

* Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound.

Why people roll their eyes and wince when you talk to them about being accountable for their outcomes.

Why the humble KPI* list is the most important list in the world.


*Key Performance Indicators

And other more interesting things like: why the Hurricane Katrina response was so hopeless; why the AK47 is a better assault rifle than the M16; and how a basic outcomes theory mistake contributed to the Shock-and-Awe Iraq reconstruction debacle etc.


Great. . . how can outcomes theory be used in practice to fix outcomes systems?

The building-blocks in the Duignan's Diagram can be seen as similar to the basic building-blocks of any accounting system, e.g. assets register, general ledger. These are necessary if you want to have a sound accounting system.

In the same way, a sound outcomes system usually needs all of Duignan's outcomes system building-blocks.

Duignan's Outcomes System Diagram, and other outcomes theory principles, can be employed to build or fix any type of outcomes system in any sector.

To critique an existing outcomes system, check if it has all of the building-blocks. If not, you need to put in place any it doesn't include.

For instance, many outcomes systems don't distinguish between building-block two - controllable indicators and three - not-necessarily controllable indicators. This can create confusion and lack of clarity about who is accountable for what.

Lastly. . . how can outcomes theory be used to describe the types of evidence that you can offer to show that a program 'works'?

You can think of these as a set of playing cards that can be played when arguing in support of a program or organization's effectiveness.

If some cards are strong then you don't have to worry so much about playing your other cards.

Six of the seven outcomes system building-blocks can be seen as six types of evidence. that can be offered that a program works (building-blocks one to six).

However, if some of your major cards are weak, you can compensate for this by playing a good mix of cards from all of the possible six measurement-related building-blocks.

* These particular references can be cited to refer to the material on this page.

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