Characteristics of Outcome Programs

Characteristics of Programs with Achievable and Measurable Outcomes

1. The program is designed to address a demonstrated, clearly defined, concrete local need.

  • Many museum directors lack skills they need to develop new funding sources.
  • Many children lose reading skills during summer months.
  • Many students score below “basic” competency on standardized reading tests.
  • Many seniors need special accommodations to support their access to museums.
  • Many library staff cannot solve basic computer problems.
  • Project partner staff from different disciplines (e.g. academic and public libraries, museums and schools) often lack skills to collaborate effectively.

2. The program includes repeated, sustained, and/or intensive interactions between a user or participant and program services.
Basic functions (e.g. database licenses, cooperative catalogs, ILL, document delivery, exhibits, collections management, etc.) are the foundation of library and museum services, but they normally produce small, hard-to-show changes in skill, knowledge, behavior, status, or condition. A book display designed to encourage students to read during the summer is less likely to sustain reading skills than a program that engages students in learning what books interest them, talking about those books with other students, listening to authors they enjoy, and/or competing for special reading awards. A 1-hour tour of a historic house is less likely to increase knowledge of 19th-c. artifacts than a workshop that shows participants how to analyze an old object for period and authenticity.

3. The program is designed to accommodate the preferences of one or more accurately characterized target audiences.
Moms in suburban Boston, retired seniors in Arizona, and biologists may all benefit from a Web site designed to identify regional plant populations and growing habits, but people in these different groups are unlikely to respond to the same user interface or Web design. Personal goals, learning style, language skills, culture, education level, gender, economic resources, and convenience are among the many characteristics that differ from audience to audience. It is nearly impossible to design a program that achieves a universal outcome for the “general public”– the public has many “market segments” whose needs, goals, and preferences can be identified to expand museum and library reach.

4. The program has concrete, short- or medium-term outcomes.
“Democracy will flourish,” and “lifelong learners” are noble visions, but their evaluation is likely to be frustrating. “Increasing first-time voters” is a concrete goal that could support democracy. Helping school media center staff strengthen their skills for finding age-appropriate online campaign information , teaching students to interpret such information, and supporting classroom teachers with online resources for discussing the political process can support lifelong learning at all three levels–media center staff, students, and teachers. Showing long-term outcomes or impact requires study outside the mission or resources of most libraries and museums.

5. Program outcomes are clearly related to program services.
A program of book recommendations; film, TV, and lectures; and voter registration services during the run up to an election might logically increase the number of first-time voter registrations or voting in the example above. An exhibit of political memorabilia might increase interest in the political process. A program of workshops and technical assistance from library experts to school media specialists could enable them to use search engines efficiently, create Web pages to support classroom teaching, and articulate the principles of information literacy for students at different levels. Those measurable, relatively fast-learned skills both represent and transmit “lifelong learning skills.” The “trick” is to identify short-term gains that, if they were sustained, and if they were achieved by many people, would logically contribute to a visionary change.

6. The program is designed with input from its target audience(s).
Participants or users who have been asked their goals and preferences for program services are most likely to participate or use the service at the level required to achieve its intended results. Many reasons can make it impossible to address all audience wants or needs, but consider those that are significant and feasible.

7. The program follows a concrete plan to assess one or more examples of attitude, knowledge, behavior, or skill to represent its most significant outcome goals. If program staff have no concrete plan to evaluate results for participants or users of program services, it’s unlikely that useful information will be collected to show the program’s value.

  • Choose at least one short-term outcome important to the program staff and stakeholders.
  • Choose at least one concrete, observable behavior, item of knowledge, demonstration of skill, and/or expression of attitude that will represent the outcome to staff and stakeholder satisfaction.
  • Identify a way of observing, a source for providing, or another way of getting information about the knowledge, skill, behavior, or attitude among program participants that is acceptable to participants, staff, and stakeholders. Assign the responsibility for collecting that information.
  • Identify the group of participants about whom or from whom information will be collected to learn about how many “got” the outcome and to what extent.
  • Pilot the way the information will be collected by observing, accessing, or otherwise gathering it for a sample of participants before implementing the program or the program’s early stages. Adjust as necessary based on the information gathered.
  • Identify the times when the information will be collected for each participant or for the whole group.
  • Collect the information.
  • Use the information to show the value of the program, to publicize it to new participants, improve the program, and to help other libraries or museums strengthen their own practice, audiences, and programs.


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