What Is Outcome Mapping?

Jerry Morrison

Outcome mapping is an approach to planning, implementing and assessing development projects. The focus is on the overall effect of the project on a community over time. This is in contrast with traditional methods that typically examine the impact on the primary target only for the duration of the project. Outcome mapping attempts to document changes in community behavior in an attempt to foster those that are supportive of program intent over the long term. This methodology was advanced by the International Development Research Center (IDRC), a Canadian economic and social development organization.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

The behavioral changes of boundary partners, individuals and groups that are directly involved in a project, are termed outcomes. Examination of outcomes allows for training and resource allocation tailored to the context of the community. The behavior of those directly involved in a project can change the behavior of those less directly involved, and so on throughout the social matrix. Outcome mapping provides the tools for assessing these changes and responding to them. It recognizes that sustainable change involves the interplay of outcomes unique to the project and community in question.

Intentional Design is the first stage in outcome mapping. Boundary partners are identified and are typically brought into the process at this point. The overall vision for the project is defined and the outcomes necessary to fulfill that vision are identified. How the project will be implemented in order to facilitate these outcomes is considered.

In the second stage, Outcome and Performance Monitoring, a project's actions in relation to the boundary partners' progress toward stated goals is documented. These are changes in behavior that can be linked to the project though not necessarily directly caused by its actions. Comparison to a set of Progress Markers, which were defined in the earlier design stage, allows for feedback and adjustment to the ongoing project management process.

Evaluation Planning is the third stage of outcome mapping, where the criteria for assessing the realization of project goals is considered. Typically, this involves formulating an ideal, a best case and a likely set of possible outcomes. Since program actions may not be the proximate cause of positive change, the methodology used might evolve over the course of a project.

In outcome mapping, success is a sustainable advance brought about by the behavioral changes of the boundary partners. The changes might not be directly linked to the project's actions, but the project will always be a catalyst for that change. This approach is often used in conjunction with traditional assessment methodology such as Project Cycle Management (PCM) or the Logical Framework Approach (LFA). These methods emphasize close scrutiny of the project itself, in terms of quality control and efficiency of implementation.

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