Although it can be assumed that any action, activity, project or service generates outcomes for stakeholders, when we measure the social impact of an activity, we need to be able to prove that the outcomes we are claiming for stakeholders are actually happening, and also understand how much change stakeholders experience.
Outcomes can be tricky to measure, but they can measured using outcome indicators. An indicator is basically what it says it is; an indication that a particular outcome has occurred.
There are plenty of precedents for using indicators to measure outcomes; most obviously, the Scottish Government Improvement Service Bank of Indicators, there to help councils measure and report on their performance against their Single Outcomes Agreements. There are numerous other examples, but a very useful resource that is available to all if the SROI Network bank of outcomes indicators, available on its website .
To be useful, indicators need to be quantifiable in some way, they need to indicate a change (or where we are trying to prevent something, that no change has taken place) and they need to be appropriate to the outcome.
Some outcomes, sometimes refererd to as ‘hard’ outcomes, can be straight forward enough to measure. ‘Reduction in teenage pregnancies’ for example – an appropriate indicator would be the number of pregnancies less reported now than before an intervention began, within a population.
But what about something like ‘increased confidence’ for service users on an employability training course? Most of us would agree this would be a far more difficult outcome to evidence and measure. How can this outcome be understaood?
Service users can be asked to give a reading of how much more confident they feel as a result of the course. This provides a measure of the outcome, but it is a subjective measure of increased confidence, and so on its own it may not mean much. We’d also have to make sure that we had a reading of ‘confidence’ from the trainees at the start of the course, to compare the result to. However, if information is collected from the service user about their feelings of confidence, and this is reported along side another indicator, for example an increase in the number of trainees applying for jobs, then it could be said that this fairly certainly indicates that our trainees have increased in self confidence. If a service continues to measure the trainees confidence over time, asking them routinely to report on this in a formalised way, collating the responses, and reporting them along side other more objective indicators, the result will be a robust set of data that indicates that service users do experience the outcome of increased confidence being claimed for them.