Evaluating Outcomes – Focus on the What, not the How

In this blog I usually try not to get overly technical and scare people—but sometimes we all have to brace ourselves and embrace the technical. So here goes!

Imagine that you’re off to see your GP for an annual physical. Think about how she might assess your overall health. Obviously, many indicators would be relevant—your weight, blood pressure, body mass index or stress test endurance, for instance. To get a full understanding of your health, on the basis of which to make complex decisions for treatment or wellness, a full spectrum of different indicators have to be identified and tracked. Given that one indicator might be weight, the appropriate measurement tool would be a scale; yet of course, it doesn’t make sense to say that a doctor would track your health status by using a scale.

Such a leap in logic is precisely the one that communicators make, however, when suggesting that “a survey will be conducted to find out whether an outreach campaign was successful.” They commit the methodological error of confusing what outcome is being evaluated (the performance indicators) with how the outcome is to be assessed (the measurement tool).

It’s vital, when you’re assessing the outcome of a communications initiative, to focus on what it is you need to measure before moving on to the how. And keep in mind that performance should be assessed through a variety of lenses to get the fullest possible analysis of results. That means looking at four distinct kinds of indicators:

  • Process Indicators: metrics of efficiency, such as response times or approval steps
  • Activity Indicators: metrics of reach, such as number of web hits or attendance at an event
  • Relationship Indicators: metrics pertaining to relational value, such as level of alignment among partners, quality of engagement among staff or degree of consultation with stakeholder groups; and
  • Results Indicators: metrics of desired outcomes, such as number of new members recruited, degree of client satisfaction, revenue, or influence leading to a regulatory change

Easy to grasp and to put into effect? Not always… but indispensable for adding strategic value to your communications work. By focussing on these indicators first, you’ll clarify what your efforts are aiming to achieve and how you’ll know if they’re getting the results you want. For a framework to start, check out this dashboard for evaluation.