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Lessons Learned: Outputs are Cool!

[Guest post by Karen Vargas, OERC]

Cindy Olney and I just returned from the American Evaluation Association Summer Institute in Atlanta, GA. My mind exploded from how much I learned! The blog posts for the next couple of months will be filled with lessons learned from the Institute. I am going to start with Outputs, because they were the greatest surprise to me.

In his “Introduction to Program Evaluation,” Thomas Chapel, Chief Evaluation Officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that he thought outputs were just as important as outcomes. This was quite shocking to me, since it always seemed like outputs were just the way of counting what had been done, and not nearly as interesting as finding out if the desired outcome had happened.

Outputs are the tangible products of the activities that take place in a project. For example, let’s say the project’s goal is to reduce the number of children with Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLL) by screening children to identify the ones with EBLL and then referring them to health professionals for medical management. In this brief project description, the activities would be to:

1) Screen children to identify the ones with EBLL
2) Refer them to health professionals for medical management

If outputs are the tangible products of the activities, they are sometimes thought to be something countable, like “the number of children screened for EBLL” and “the number of referrals.” This is how the project manager can ensure that the activities took place that were planned.

However, if you think about the way an activity can take place, you can see that some methods of completing the activities might lead to a successful outcomes, and some might not. A better way of thinking of the outputs might be “what would an output look like that would lead to the outcome that we are looking for?” To use “referrals” as an example, let’s say that during the program 100% of the children identified with EBLL were referred to health professionals, but only 30% of them actually followed up and went to a health professional. If the only information you gathered was the number of referrals, you cannot tell why the success rate was so low. Some of the things that could go wrong in a referral is that people are referred to physicians who are not taking more patients, or to physicians who don’t speak the same language as the parents of the child. So you might want to define the referral output as including those factors. The new output measure could be “the number of referrals to ‘qualified’ physicians,” in which ‘qualified’ is defined by the attributes you need to see in the physicians, such as physicians who are taking new patients, or physicians who speak the same language as the family.

The lesson for me is that outputs are as important as outcomes because by thinking carefully about outputs at the beginning of the planning process, you can ensure that the project has the greatest chance of successful outcomes, and by using outputs during process evaluation, you can make any needed corrections in the process as it is happening to ensure the greatest success of the project.

RFI for Health Disparities Research

 Soliciting Input into the NIH Science Vision for Health Disparities Research

Do you want to help shape the course of health disparities research for the next decade?

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) is seeking comments on key research areas that should be addressed in the “development of a transformational health disparities agenda.”

Comments from stakeholders and the public are welcome. Comments are due July 31, 2015

Request for Information:

NLM Announces Selection of 2015-2016 Associate Fellows

The National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world’s largest biomedical library and a component of the National Institutes of Health, is pleased to announce the selection of its 2015-2016 class of Associate Fellows. Three fellows will join NLM in the fall of 2015.

The Associate Fellowship Program is residency fellowship at the NLM located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The one-year program, beginning in September every year, offers a robust educational and leadership experience, ranging from formal lectures and presentations to projects in operations, research and development, policy and data analysis, all within the context of the role of a national library on the national and international stage.

More information on the Associate Fellowship Program is available at:

Becky Baltich Nelson received her MLS degree from the University of Maryland in 2015. While completing her degree, Ms. Baltich Nelson interned with the National Library of Medicine, where she evaluated consumer-oriented resources for the Genetics Home Reference handbook. She also worked on several projects as an intern with the Health Sciences and Human Services Library at the University of Maryland-Baltimore. Additionally, Ms. Baltich Nelson served as a board member for her school’s student chapter of the American Library Association. During her MLS program, she worked as the Assistant Director of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Undergraduate Office at UMD. Ms. Baltich Nelson holds an MS in college counseling and student development from St. Cloud State University and a BS in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Kim-Loan Nguyen received her MLS from the University of Maryland in 2015.  While completing her degree, Ms. Nguyen volunteered at the Inova Fairfax Hospital Health Sciences Library in Fairfax, Virginia, providing reference services and expanding the library’s digital repository.  As a master’s student, she completed a field study with the National Library of Medicine to create effective search strategies that allow researchers to obtain reliable information on specific topics from PubMed.  Ms. Nguyen’s interests and work have always revolved around health and information, beginning with her first job out of college as an information specialist at the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information in Rockville, Maryland.  She also holds a Master of Science in Physical Therapy from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.  Ms. Nguyen completed her undergraduate degree in psychology and economics at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, with a year spent abroad in Angers, France.

Tyler Nix received his MSLS degree from the University of Kentucky in 2015. While completing his degree, Mr. Nix worked as a graduate assistant supporting faculty research in the School of Library and Information Science. He also worked as a digital resources technician with the Frontier Nursing University library’s institutional repository in Lexington, Kentucky. As a master’s student, he interned with the National Library of Medicine, developing a user guide template for the TOXMAP database. Before starting graduate studies, Mr. Nix worked in serials processing and claims for the University of Arkansas Mullins Library. He also worked in development research and major gift fundraising for the University of Arkansas Office of Development. Mr. Nix holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

NN/LM MAR Training Opportunities

[Guest post by Renae Barger]

Training opportunities from NN/LM Middle Atlantic Region

  1. Directory of History of Medicine Collections (DHMC): A Valuable Resource (Boost Box) – Learn about the Directory of History of Medicine Collections as a resource and the capabilities of the fully searchable database.  Libraries, museums, archives and others with history of medicine collections will hear the benefits of adding collections to this valuable resource.  Presented by Crystal Smith, Reference Librarian, Rare Books and Early Manuscripts, National Library of Medicine – June 9, 2015 / Noon – 1 pm (ET)  Online / No Registration Required
  1. On-demand access to the Affordable Care Act:  Libraries Making a Difference Symposium – if you missed the symposium, MAR is offering on-demand viewing of the webcast. Registration is required to view. Those who watch the entire program may request 6 hours MLA CE.
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