Outcome Mapping [C] [C] (Carden, Smutylo, & Earl, 2002) is a new approach to project planning, monitoring and evaluation, which has been developed at the International Development Research Centre www.idrc.ca; designed by IDRC in consultation with Dr Barry Kibel of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation as an adaptation of the Outcome Engineering approach. It can be used at project, program or organisational levels.
Although OM is a complex method which has many similarities and differences with conventional methods, there are three elements which most clearly distinguish it.
- OM focuses on a limited number of ”boundary partners” with whom a program or project has direct contact, rather than on a larger number of final beneficiaries. Boundary partners are defined as ”those individuals, groups, & organizations with whom a program interacts directly to effect change & with whom the program can anticipate some opportunities for influence” [D] [D] (ibid, p.1). Each boundary partner is associated with an ”outcome challenge”, which can be understood as a part of the vision for the whole project and which belongs to that boundary partner.
- There is a narrower emphasis on outcomes, conceived primarily as changes in boundary partner behaviour and relationships, rather than on impact. OM does not try to force implementing organisations to try to demonstrate that they caused numerically large impacts, especially not in areas ”where their influence … is low and decreasing relative to that of other actors” [E] [E] (ibid, p.5). The focus is on the development/change of key partners; quality, not quantity; and on contribution (what did they do, what worked?) rather than on attribution (did they really cause the change?) which is sometimes impossible to prove.
- OM introduces the concept of progress markers as a graduated ladder of specific changes in boundary partner behaviour and relationships, which define and describe progress towards each outcome challenge. It should be stressed that OM does not conceive of progress markers as being arranged in a linear fashion. Progress towards the outcome challenge will rarely occur in an ordered, step-by-step fashion. However, ladder metaphor proved very useful during evaluation, in order to introduce the concept, and did not find that partners understood it in a too literal fashion. These kinds of changes have traditionally been seen as challenging to capture, due to difficulties with their formulation in accordance to the SMART paradigm, which refers to objective and reliable measurement [F] [F] (Mikkelsen, 2005, p. 164). And yet, OM stresses that these kinds of changes, in fact, often represent the heart of development work. The concept of progress marker ladders is an attempt to define and document these kinds of change systematically. Progress markers for each outcome challenge are grouped into ”expect to see”, ”like to see” and ”love to see”, with the first set describing concrete boundary partner behaviour which the project assumes will happen, and the final set describing behaviour highly desirable and, more or less, a part of the vision.