Defining Outcomes: The First Step on the Path to Community Building

For the last few years ILI has been helping organizations think about how they meet the needs of their communities. Often the first step on that path is the definition of their organization’s outcomes. Defining outcomes is a critical process for any organization aiming to measure its impact effectively and drive meaningful community engagement. Our work with the Computer History Museum (CHM) has exemplified this process through a series of structured workshops aimed at developing outcomes that inform their logic model and eventual evaluation strategy. Here is an overview of the approach, which we feel can serve as a model for other institutions.


Step 1: Establishing the Framework

The process begins with understanding the components of a logic model, including inputs (resources), activities (actions), outputs (products), and short- and long-term outcomes. In this case, we started by understanding the current actions of the organization. This foundational understanding sets the stage for outcome development. An initial workshop introduced these concepts, aligned on the goals, and began mapping out the intended outcomes for their diverse audience groups.


Step 2: Audience-Centric Outcome Development

A crucial aspect of the approach was identifying both their current audiences and the audiences they hoped to reach. These audiences were then fit into distinct groups: tech fans, technologists, leaders, cultural consumers, and youth. Each group has unique characteristics and requires tailored outcomes. For instance, tech fans are expected to visit, subscribe, and eventually become lifelong supporters of the museum. Technologists might contribute artifacts and share their expertise, while leaders and influencers are engaged to advocate for the museum’s mission and provide financial support. This segmentation ensures that the outcomes are relevant and achievable for each group.


Step 3: Collaborative Brainstorming

Using digital tools like Miro, we facilitated brainstorming sessions to identify immediate, intermediate, and long-term outcomes for each audience segment. This collaborative effort involved key stakeholders, including board members and staff, to gather diverse perspectives and ensure comprehensive coverage of potential outcomes. The synthesis of these ideas led to a working document that outlines the desired changes in knowledge, behavior, and attitudes for each group over time.


Step 4: Refining and Validating Outcomes

The subsequent workshop sessions focused on refining these outcomes, ensuring they were specific, measurable, and aligned with CHM’s mission. Participants reviewed the proposed outcomes, identified any missing elements, and discussed potential challenges in achieving these outcomes. This iterative process allowed for the fine-tuning of outcomes and the identification of key indicators for measurement. For example, outcomes for cultural consumers include increasing their understanding of technology’s impact and encouraging responsible technology use, while outcomes for youth emphasize building STEM skills and inspiring careers in technology.


Step 5: Integrating Feedback and Drafting a Theory of Change

The final step involves integrating feedback from all sessions to create a working theory of change (Figure 1). This model serves as a roadmap for the organization’s strategic initiatives and provides a clear framework for evaluating their impact. The goal is to align the organization’s activities with desired outcomes and identify measurable indicators. The next step is to assist the organization in effectively tracking their progress toward their outcomes and make data-driven decisions to enhance their programs and community engagement efforts.


Figure 1: Working Theory of Change


In summary, defining outcomes is a dynamic and collaborative process that requires a clear framework, audience segmentation, and iterative refinement. This structured approach not only ensures that their outcomes are aligned with their mission but also provides a robust foundation for measuring their impact and driving continuous improvement. Other organizations can learn from this model to develop their own effective outcome-based strategies.

Posted Jul 10, 2024