Giving Compass’ Take:
• Better Evaluation discusses the practice of Outcome Harvesting: working backwards from tangible evidence on what’s changed to see how an intervention or policy contributed to the change.
• How can program leaders use this method to improve services across the board? What areas of policymaking would be enhanced through Outcome Harvesting?
Outcome Harvesting is an evaluation approach in which evaluators, grantmakers, and/or program managers and staff identify, formulate, verify, analyze and interpret “outcomes” in programming contexts where relations of cause and effect are not fully understood.
Outcomes are defined as changes in the “behavior writ large” (such as actions, relationships, policies, practices) of one or more social actors influenced by an intervention. For example, a religious leader making a proclamation that is unprecedented and considered to be important; a change in the behavior between organizations or between communities; changes in regulations, formal laws or cultural norms.
Unlike some evaluation approaches, Outcome Harvesting does not measure progress towards predetermined objectives or outcomes, but rather, collects evidence of what has changed and, then, working backwards, determines whether and how an intervention contributed to these changes. The outcome(s) can be positive or negative, intended or unintended, direct or indirect, but the connection between the intervention and the outcomes should be plausible.
Information is collected or “harvested” using a range of methods to yield evidence-based answers to useful, actionable questions (“harvesting questions”).
Outcome Harvesting can be used for monitoring as well as for evaluation (including developmental, formative or summative evaluation) of interventions or organizations.
Philanthropy is a complex topic, and others found these selections from the Impact Giving archive from Giving Compass to be good resources.
Outcome Harvesting is recommended when:
The focus is primarily on outcomes rather than activities. Outcome Harvesting is designed for situations where decision-makers (as “harvest users”) are most interested in learning about what was achieved and how. In other words, there is an emphasis on effectiveness rather than efficiency or performance. The approach is also a good fit when the aim is to understand the process of change and how each outcome contributes to this change.
The programming context is complex. Outcome Harvesting is suitable for programming contexts where relations of cause and effect are not fully understood. Conventional monitoring and evaluation aimed at determining results compares planned outcomes with what is actually achieved, and planned activities with what was actually done. In complex environments, however, objectives and the paths to achieve them are largely unpredictable and predefined objectives and theories of change must be modified over time to respond to changes in the context. Outcome Harvesting is particularly appropriate in these more dynamic and uncertain environments in which unintended outcomes dominate, including negative ones. Consequently, Outcome Harvesting is particularly suitable to assess social change interventions or innovation and development work.
The purpose is evaluation. Outcome Harvesting can serve to track the changes in behavior of social actors influenced by an intervention. However, it is designed to go beyond this and support learning about those achievements. Thus, Outcome Harvesting is particularly useful for on-going developmental, mid-term formative, and end-of-term summative evaluations. It can be used by itself or in combination with other approaches.
Read the full article about Outcome Harvesting and how it should be used by Ricardo Wilson-Grau from Better Evaluation.
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