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Outcome Evaluations: The Basics

Outcome evaluations can help you tell the story of your program's impact and whether the program is meeting its objectives.

Outcome evaluations can help you tell the story of your program’s impact and whether the program is meeting its objectives. Outcome evaluations assess the direct results of the program, that is, the outcomes the program is trying to achieve and that are typically conducted at the end or near the end of a program. Objectives are intended results or consequences of your program, or activities. Outcomes are achieved results or consequences of what was learned. An outcome evaluation will provide information on how effective your program activities and strategies are.

Outcome evaluations can answer questions about your program, such as: 

  • What were the results of participants receiving intervention, advocacy, or shelter services?

  • What effect did the program components and strategies, such as offering therapy in addition to shelter services, have on their overall well-being?

  • What unintended consequences or unexpected outcomes resulted from participation in the program? For example, perhaps while living in a shelter, children who needed it, were able to receive individualized education plans at school as a result of advocacy at the shelter. The shelter may not have focused on improving educational access, but this outcome still occurred.

  • How did anticipated outcomes differ across the social, economic, cultural and other diverse backgrounds of participants? This can help programs understand if the program is having similar or different outcomes for participants.

A clear understanding of your program theory, and more specifically the outcomes you hope to achieve, are important when developing an outcome evaluation. Outcomes include the changes that we expect to see if we complete our activities. These can include short-term changes in stability for example increasing the immediate safety of survivors and their families, or knowledge, such as when a survivor learns more about the various resources available to them. Outcomes can also include longer term changes such as when a family achieves housing stability after living in a shelter or when children are reunified with their families after separation. 

Consider a program for parent and child survivors of domestic violence, what benefits would you expect to see from program participants?

The following resources may be helpful to consider the different outcomes that domestic violence programs assess:

  • Example Outcomes for Domestic Violence Programs: This resource from the Domestic Violence Evidence Project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence has numerous examples of program outcomes for domestic violence services such as crisis-lines, crisis intervention, shelter, counseling and support groups, and multiple forms of advocacy for adult survivors.

  • Developing Outcome Measures for Domestic Violence Programs’ Work With Children And Youth: A resource for the field that outlines potential outcome measures that domestic violence programs can consider utilizing in their efforts to evaluate their impact when working with mothers and children.  Written by Eleanor Lyon, PhD, Julia Perilla, PhD, and Anne Menard for Futures Without Violence, the manual explores some of the major complexities involved in developing and utilizing outcome measures for domestic violence programs’ work with children. It begins with an overview of some of the major considerations involved. It then describes the process used to reach the measures proposed here, along with issues to be discussed and resolved in order to implement them. This paper is a a companion to Building Promising Futures: Guidelines for Enhancing Response of Domestic Violence Programs to Children and Youth.

Ultimately, the selected outcomes of the evaluation will be those that are most relevant to the overall evaluation question; and the evaluation question is determined by the constituents and team members leading these efforts.

However, to be assessed in an outcome evaluation they must be measurable, realistic, and make sense given the program’s theory (e.g. how the program activities and strategies lead to the outcomes and impacts). 

The following worksheet was designed for use in PF Evaluation technical assistance efforts with the Family Violence Prevention Services Administration funded Specialized Services for Abused Parents and Children grantees. This worksheet supports users to identify how they will measure each outcome, the data source, metrics they will use, and importantly, offers reflection questions on how key constituents will be involved in assessing whether this is the best outcome and approach to use.