Specifing the connection between the bottom and top levels of an outcomes model (‘detailing the middle')


Academic references to outcomes theory

The principle

An outcomes model needs to show all levels of a program and spell out the logic of how it is believed the bottom of the model (outputs, activities, projects) will lead to the achievement of the top of the model (outcomes, goals, results). This should be shown within an accessible visual outcomes model or similar form of program documentation which is readily available during all discussions about the program.

The problem

Programs usually develop a detailed set of activities and outputs and also usually identify a set of higher-level outcomes summarizing what they're trying to achieve at the highest level. However, merely having these two sets does nothing to clearly communicate the logic of how it's believed that activities/outputs will translate into higher-level outcomes. In the case of some programs, there is a failure to think in detail about this connection. In other instances, the connection has been analyzed during program planning, but this analysis is buried in long text-based documents describing the program's rationale. 

The solution

Programs should always detail the links between their activities/outputs and higher-level outcomes within an easily accessible format. Usually, the most user-friendly way to do this is to put it in the form of a visual outcomes model.  Such a model should be used as the basis for all discussions with decision-makers and stakeholders. This is the best way of ensuring that a program communicates that it has thought in detail about the connection between its activities/outputs and the higher-level outcomes it is seeking.

The mere existence of the visual outcomes model setting out the links makes it clear that this analytical work has been attempted by the program. The model's easily accessible visual format also means that anyone can quickly overview the program rationale and query any aspect of it. This gives decision-makers and stakeholders a feel for the type, and depth, of thinking that has gone into looking at the links between program activities/outputs and high-level outcomes.