Outcomes or impact: what's the difference?

Metrics are useful, but what do they really tell us? Let’s make a distinction between outcome and impact.

The terms ‘outcome’ and ‘impact’ are sometimes used interchangeably but it’s important to note that they are quite different.

While outcome refers to specific and measurable short-term effects, impact can adopt a more comprehensive viewpoint, looking to broader and long-term effects.

In measurement terms, outcomes are usually predefined and can be measured objectively using quantitative measures. Impact, however, can be quantitative, qualitative, subjective, and based on people’s feelings or experiences, making it harder to quantify as a result.

The table below (Pace 1979) shows some of the differences between outcome and impact.

Factor Outcome Impact
Effect Short-term effects Long-term effects
Scope Limited Broader
Measurement approach Objectively (quantifiable terms) Subjectively (experiences/feelings)
Evaluation Measures change Tells story of the effect of change

Although these two concepts are different, this does not imply that they are independent of each other. Outcomes and impact are interlinked.

Outcomes tell us the change in objective terms that has occurred as a result of a planned intervention. Impact tells the story, experiences, and/or feelings of people or society, as a result of the change.

For example, imagine a person has been following a healthy diet and exercise programme. The outcome of this could be a predefined statement, such as losing 10kg of weight. The impact is much broader – an increase in health, wellbeing and self-motivation, resulting in better career performance.

Defining impact and impact measurement

From the above discussion, impact can be defined as:

A dynamic concept which presupposes a relationship of cause and effect. Impact can be measured through the evaluation of the outcomes of particular actions, be that an initiative, a set of initiatives forming a policy, or set of policies which form a strategy’

(Landry et al. 1993)

So, impact can be measured for all activities and in its simplest terms refers to the long-term effects of an individual, organisation, or policy actions/interventions on stakeholders, such as customers, beneficiaries, sponsors and the society at large.

Therefore, measuring impact refers to the process of evaluating the effects of the actions/interventions of an individual/organisation on people, the environment, society or the economy (Fedorciow 2012).

Your task

Think about a situation in which you would like to measure your impact:

  • What data will demonstrate your outcomes?
  • What data will demonstrate your impact?

Share your answers in the comments and read and respond to those of others.


References

Pace, C.R. (1979) Measuring Outcomes of College. Fifty Years of Findings and Recommendations for the Future. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

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This article is from the free online course:

Measuring Entrepreneurial Impact

Coventry University