In recent years ‘Outputs’ have become the pariah of M&E. There’s good reason for this of course…because in the bad old days, people tended to get stuck on only reporting the widgets that projects produced, and in so doing, lost sight of the bigger picture of the human changes that were expected to result from these widgets…the outcomes and impact.
But, I think that we’ve somehow thrown the baby out with the bathwater. There is a sense the M&E of outputs is only concerned with the boring ‘quantitative’ data about projects, and so tends to be downplayed by ‘enlightened’ M&E practitioners. But in fact there can be a lot of qualitative value in ensuring the ‘outputs’ remain one element within our M&E arrangements. This can be a source of valuable information for learning about the quality of our work…and what works or doesn’t work in terms of fostering the desired outcomes.
Let me use an example from my personal life to explain…
My partner and I recently had a baby. As the tradition dictates, I made an announcement when the baby was born (by email). Can you imagine the uproar if I had simply reported the quantitative element? “A baby has arrived”. I’m sure I would have been flooded with demands for more qualitative information. What gender? What birth weight? How is the mother? Name? Who does he/she look like?
And so it is with project outputs. There is an ‘Output Type’…the simple description of what has been delivered (‘a baby’). Then there are the ‘Output Qualities’…all of the intersting information that ellaborates the quantitative fact.
A real example from a recent Oxfam project…
Output Type: ‘Disaster Commitee Training Session Facilitated”
Output Qualities: Date, location, number of participants (male/female), facilitator, topics presented, particpant feedback…etc.
By capturing both the output type and the output qualities, we can build up a rich understanding of what is actuallying being done in the project.
Incidentally…Laria Maree Crawford was born on 9th May 11:17AM
Weight: 3.9kg (8.6lb)
Length: 52 cm
Birth method: Caesarian
Status: Mother and baby doing well