Question: What are outcomes, outputs, aims and objectives? How do they fit together?
- Aims are the changes that you are trying to achieve.
- Objectives are the methods or the activities by which you plan to achieve your aims.
- Outcomes are the changes, benefits, learning or other effects that happen as a result of your work. They can be wanted or unwanted, expected or unexpected. They are often hard to count or prove, and normally rely on an understanding of the initial situation or problem for comparison. For example, the outcomes for users of a refugee centre might include improved English language skills, improved confidence in accessing services and reduced isolation.
- Outputs are the tangible products, services or facilities created by your work, and are usually quantifiable. They don’t rely on any knowledge of your ‘starting point’ and instead focus on what happens once you have finished your work. For example, a youth employment programme might get 20 young people into work, provide 600 hours of accredited training, and run five careers fairs.
These four concepts should fit together and influence what you do and how you do it. Your overall aim, or ‘mission’ – for instance ‘to improve the lives of local young people’ - might then break down into a number of more specific aims, such as ‘to increase the confidence of local young people’ ‘to improve employment opportunities for young people’ and ‘to decrease youth violence in the area’. Achieving these specific aims will result in outcomes. Your objectives are then the activities you plan to carry out to make sure that these outcomes happen – in this case objective might be: offering mentoring support, running a job club and providing conflict resolution workshops. Achieving these objectives will give you your outputs – for instance, the number of young people who participated, the number of sessions offered and the decrease in youth crime and unemployment statistics. Thinking about your project based on your overall aim and desired outcomes means that you are more likely to stay focused on what you want to achieve and less likely to sacrifice the quality of your service for a large quantity of outputs.