3. Measuring Program Benefits
Program benefits are measured in two ways, ‘outputs’ and ‘outcomes’. Outputs are a measure of the actual activities that you undertake. Outcomes are the results of those activities on the lives of the participants and/or the surrounding community. Both outputs and outcomes should be measurable. Let’s look at some examples:
Program: After-school tutoring program
- Outputs: number of students attending program
- Outcomes: increase in grade point levels for participating students, increased high school graduation rates, improved self-esteem
Program: Meals-on-Wheels program for low-income seniors
- Outputs: number of meals delivered
- Outcomes: improved health of participants, reduced percentage of senior population with inadequate nutrition
Program: Development of ‘tot lot’ park for pre-school-age children in low-income community
- Outputs: increased square footage (or acreage) of park facilities for the community
- Outcomes: number of children or families utilizing the park, improved quality of life in community, reduced accidents among pre-school children from playing in the streets.
Okay, so now you’re getting more of a picture of outputs and outcomes and you’re ready to start analyzing these for your own program. Where do you start? With some programs or projects it is easy to identify the benefits. These are generally programs that are meant to improve something that is already measured, such as test scores, grade point average, homeownership, etc. But with other types of projects the benefits are not so clear. You know that your project will benefit the community, but how can you gauge these benefits? Can you really connect your wonderful community program to concrete results? Think of Dr. Harold Hill in The Music Man dancing around the town square and lecturing the town-folk about how a big brass band is what they need to save their children from the sinful temptations that have come to town in the form of pool tables. Will a marching band really change outcomes for at-risk youth? How would we measure this?
Let’s take on this challenge and give it a try. The first thing to do is to go back to the Community Need section. Notice how Dr. Hill starts his song, (‘Oh Yes We’ve Got Trouble…’) by talking about the problems besetting the town’s youth – truancy, tobacco use, etc. That is his ‘need’ statement. The solution to this problem, his proposed ‘program’, is a youth marching band. He’s not very precise about his expected outcomes. He implies that the band will lead to increased self-esteem and socialization, but those aren’t very specific and they are also difficult to measure. Let’s give him a hand…
Project: River City Youth Marching Band
- Community Need – Youth in River City are suffering from increasing anti-social behavior, poor educational outcomes and at-risk activities. High School truancy rate is 30% higher than the Iowa state average and high school graduation rates are 15% lower. There is a lack of positive afterschool activities for youth, who are increasingly being drawn into gang activities and hanging out at pool halls. Youth crime rates are 10% higher than in the nearby metropolitan area, where youth have access to a variety of education and recreational programs.
- Proposed Program – River City Youth Marching Band. Under the direction of Dr. Harold Hill, this program will recruit at-risk youth, provide band instruments, uniforms and musical training, and engage the participants in marching band activities, including parades, sports events and regional competitions. Additional instruction, equipment and uniforms will be provided in baton twirling and other marching band auxiliary functions for non-musical youth.
- Outputs – number of youth participating in the marching band program.
- Outcomes – Improved school attendance and graduation rates among program participants. Reduction in youth crime rates in the community.
You may have noticed that we helped the Music Man’s with his outcomes by going back to his community need statement. This is part of the logical flow of a project. The community need should dictate the program, and the program should provide outcomes that address the community need.