Outcomes should be determined by what is being sought in the real world not by organisational structure (‘real-world outcomes')


Academic references to outcomes theory

The principle

Outcomes described within an outcomes model should be determined by what is being sought in the real world. This is in contrast to structuring outcomes around current organizational structure.   

The problem

Organizational structure is to some extent arbitary. Different functions are combined in different ways in different settings at different points in time. True outcomes thinking should be based not on the potentially changing nature of particular organizational structures. In contrast, outcomes should be determined by the changes that are being sought in the outside world.

It is sometimes the case when identifying high-level outcomes that constraints are placed on the number of outcomes that are allowed to be identified (e.g. ‘we want three or less outcomes stating what you’re trying to do'). This approach can cut across the Real world outcomes principle because the number of outcomes that are needed in any instance should be determined by the real world issues being addressed rather than current organizational structure. So if you have an agency that is undertaking ten different things in the real world there is no reason to believe that its outcomes can be specified in a small number of outcomes just because these different activities have been grouped at the current time within a single organization.

The solution

Build outcomes models of what is being sought in the outside world rather than just in terms of a current organizational adminstrative structure. The particular responsibilities of specific organizational units to intervene in such outcomes models can then be shown by highlighting the parts of a real-world outcomes model that the organizational unit will be focused on. When done in this way the outcomes models that are build will endure over time and will not have to be changed every time that organizational groups are restructured. 

This principle, however does not mean that there should not be a consideration of the way in which outcomes are communicated. Very long lists of outcomes can be hard for readers to grasp and therefore outcomes can be grouped to make comprehension easier. However, the number of grouping cannot be predetermined prior to looking at the changes in the outcomes world that are being sought. And when presenting such grouped outcomes it is important to do so in a form (e.g. a visual outcomes model) where the reader can immediately see the lower-level outcomes which make up the grouped outcomes.


A comment from James Robertson on the impact of cognitive span on the comprehension of those reading strategy documents led to the inclusion of the last paragraph.