Applying M&E methods

Outcome Mapping: A Basic Introduction

By 20/01/2012

Outcome mapping (OM) is a methodology for planning and assessing projects that aim to bring about ‘real’ and tangible change. It has been developed with international development in mind, and can also be applied to projects (or programme) relating to research communication, policy influence and research uptake. Initially, it can seem like a complicated process, made up of numerous different elements, but once you have got to grips with it, it can be a really valuable way of planning, monitoring and evaluating a project, while also engaging stakeholders.

Outcome Mapping introduces monitoring and evaluation considerations at the planning stage of a project. It moves away from the notion that monitoring and evaluation are done to a project, and, instead, actively engages the project team in the design of a monitoring framework and evaluation plan and promotes self-assessment.

OM provides a set of tools to design and gather information on the outcomes, defined as behavioural changes, among the ‘boundary’ partners of a project. Identifying the behavioural changes that a project aims to deliver becomes synonymous with its outcomes, and part of a wider process of focusing on how change happens. OM can be used as a standalone methodology or in combination with a variety of others, such as Logframe Analysis or Most Significant Change (MSC). In addition, a variety of tools, such as Force Field Analysis and Stakeholder Analysis, can be used to support the OM process.

OM helps us learn about the influence or progression of change among direct partners as part of a project or program (boundary partners), and therefore helps those assessing a project think systematically and practically about what they are doing and to adaptively manage variations in strategies to bring about desired outcomes.

In relation to research communication, OM could be used to help plan and monitor a communications strategy for a research programme, or be attached to a policy influence plan (as adapted in the RAPID Outcome Mapping Approach).

The following three terms are at the heart of outcome mapping:

  • Behavioural change: Outcomes are defined as changes in the behaviour, relationships, activities, or actions of the people, groups, and organisations with whom a programme works directly. These outcomes can be logically linked to a programme’s activities, although they are not necessarily directly caused by them.
  • Boundary partners: Those individuals, groups, and organisations with whom the programme interacts directly and with whom the programme anticipates opportunities for influence. Most activities will involve multiple outcomes because they have multiple boundary partners.
  • Contributions: By using Outcome Mapping, a programme is not claiming the achievement of development impacts; rather, the focus is on its contributions to outcomes. These outcomes, in turn, enhance the possibility of development impacts – but the relationship is not necessarily a direct one of cause and effect.

There are generally three stages to Outcome Mapping:

  1. The first stage is the design stage (Intentional Design Stage), which helps a project establish consensus on the macro level changes it will help to bring about and plan the strategies it will use. It helps answer four questions: Why? (What is the vision to which the programme wants to contribute?); Who? (Who are the programme’s boundary partners?); What? (What are the tangible changes that are being sought?); and How? (How will the programme contribute to the change process among its boundary partners?).
  2. The second stage is the monitoring stage (Outcome and Performance Monitoring), this stage provides a framework for the on-going monitoring of a project’s actions and the boundary partners’ progress toward the achievement of outcomes. It is based largely on systematised self-assessment. It provides the following data collection tools for elements identified in the Intentional Design stage: an Outcome Journal’ (to track impact against progress markers); a Strategy Journal’ (that seeks to test and adapt the programmes strategy in ever changing circumstances); and a ‘Performance Journal’ (that logs organisational practices and gauges the need for improvements).
  3. The third stage, Evaluation Planning, helps the project identify evaluation priorities (more in-depth review of progress) and develop an evaluation plan that makes good use of resources and provides strategic benefit to the project

Three Stages of Outcome Mapping, Earl et al.,/IDRC

The OM process is intended to be participatory and, wherever feasible, can involve the full range of stakeholders, including boundary partners. Outcome Mapping is based on principles of participation and purposefully includes those implementing the programme in the design and data collection so as to encourage ownership and use of findings. It is intended to be used as a consciousness-raising, consensus-building, and empowerment tool for project staf

Some of the following resources will tell you more about OM. The Outcome Mapping Learning Community, is also a very valuable source of information for those who want to pose questions, get more detailed information and start to apply OM. There is also information here on upcoming training courses.

Key Resources: