Guide 3: Define Measurable Goals, Outputs and Outcomes

Identifying goals is the first step in planning

As you read through this section, it might be helpful to refer to Your Library Community Partnership for Breast Cancer Prevention, a case example to illustrates one approach for goals, outputs, and outcomes in a community health information program.

Deciding to develop a health information program with community partners is a creative opportunity. You may be starting a new type of program or finally getting to something for which you've seen a need for a long time. Either way, you have a fresh slate and the chance to think about the program's goals and its hoped for impact.

Goals are the starting point for planning a program. Remember that a program's success will rest, in part, on whether you have buy-in from key stakeholders of the group you want to reach. Planning for goals they find important will make your project relevant, help to ensure sustainability, and encourage participation and partnerships..

Next step-- identify activities and outcomes and ways to measure them

After articulating your project goals, the next step is to plan the activities that you think will help to reach the project goals, and an evaluation approach to measure progress and impact. The activities you select should be based on the outcomes you hope to reach. An integral component is figuring out how you will measure your accomplishments and impact.

In traditional planning and evaluation, project staff write objectives that define what will be produced, implemented, provided, or developed. Typically, the evaluation approach is to monitor these objectives using library-centric measures known as outputs to document the amount, quality, or volume of use of the project's products or services.

While outputs are important to track, evaluation approaches are increasingly focused on measuring outcomes that reveal the extent and kinds of impact the project has on its participants. Impact could be reported in the amount of change in behavior, attitude, skills, knowledge or condition (situation) of program participants.

Developing an evaluation approach to measure impact on project participants requires thinking ahead about intended outcomes and the indicators that help to measure them. In fact, indicators of change must be identified before implementing a program or service so that data can be collected before, during and after the project activities, products, or services are launched.

Outcome Measurement Basics created by Rhea Joyce Rubin for the California State Library provides a clear description of what outcome measurement is and why it is important.

Funding agencies, such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the National Library of Medicine have been increasingly interested in outcomes-based evaluation ever since Congress passed the Government Performances and Results Act (GRPA) in 1993 to ensure greater accountability of government services to the taxpayers. IMLS maintains web-based resources about outcomes-based evaluation, including Frequently Asked OBE Questions.

For a community health program case example...

Let's say your community-library partnership program wants to help the public take steps to enhance wellness and avoid preventable diseases or conditions. Here is a case example to illustrate one approach to defining a program's goals and outputs, the intended outcomes, and the indicators to measure whether they are reached.