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  • Writer's pictureClara Richards

Outcome Mapping: a liberating tool for program design

I have been using the logical framework approach for many years to help organisations with designing their projects or monitoring and evaluation systems.  I do believe that the analytical steps are very powerful; the logframe process has two stages – the analytical stage (stakeholder analysis, problem analysis, objectives analysis and alternatives analysis) and then the design stage where you actually build your results chain, and identify your assumptions, indicators and means of verification.  The analytical steps in the logframe are useful, but require a type of analytical thinking that most people are not used to. The logframe process involves a linear thinking in cause and effect (or means-end) that is difficult.  It took me many facilitation sessions to master the art of the problem tree, and in many of those sessions I had to leave the room in desperation and call my colleagues to help me get unstuck. With enough practice it is now relatively easy for me, but in most cases when I work with organisations the people in the room are doing design work for the first time and most  find it challenging.  Rather than thinking about the problem, they get stuck in the process.  

I became interested in outcome mapping as an alternative approach to logframe planning because people told me it offered a more user friendly way of thinking about change, and because my clients started asking if we could help facilitate using this method (often encouraged by their donors).

What is Outcome Mapping?

Outcome mapping is a framework used in planning, monitoring and evaluating social change interventions.  It was originally developed by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to facilitate evaluating the outcomes of its development research granting programs and is now widely used by governmental, multilateral and non-governmental organizations for a wide range of purposes.  It is particularly useful for documenting and learning about the social transformations on which ecological, economic, social or technological change depend.  Unlike approaches for measuring outputs (what did the project produce?) and impacts (has it changed anyone’s well-being?), OM focuses on planning for and measuring changes in the behaviours and actions of the people and organizations engaged and reached by the intervention.

Making people the central focus, OM sees both intended and unanticipated outcomes as inevitable in any social change process.  It connects ‘outputs’ to ‘outcomes’ by focusing on the patterns of action and interaction among stakeholders to help program participants recognize and understand the changes to which they contribute.   Its actor-focused tools enable an intervention to learn about its influence on the roles played by those it works with directly.  It also looks at how people behave in their context, and helps to adapt strategies to be context relevant. 

To find out more about outcome mapping I participated in the outcome mapping learning community and tried to learn as much as possible online. But I needed to ask questions, to work it through with others, so we at Southern Hemisphere decided to bring Terry Smutylo, one of the founders of outcome mapping, to come to South Africa to conduct a public training in October 2014.  Due to high demand we offered one course in Cape Town and another in Johannesburg, each attended by about 30 people, from all over Africa, Europe and India.

What outcome mapping offers?

The course was inspiring. We immediately felt outcome mapping was a useful tool to integrate into our work, especially with complex projects.  It was eye opening to have a tool that allows one to tell a holistic story about the change that you want to create.  My ‘aha moment’ was that the progress markers (which can be likened to indicators), map the process of transformation. This is different to the traditional way of identifying indicators which measure outputs and outcomes, but which are not necessarily linked to a coherent narrative and can become disjointed.  A common frustration expressed by many organisations that I work with is that they have collected all the data on the indicators in their matrix, but they still can’t tell the story of what they have achieved.  Outcome mapping provides a solution to this by tracing the process of change.   I have now used outcome mapping for a number of project design processes, ranging from policy influence interventions to community based programmes.  My clients have found it to be an intuitive and user-friendly process, that allows them to think systemically about change. The actor centred focus also makes it easier to identify the actions that the organisation wants to take with partners, and to define the types of changes that one wants to see. 

There is no right way to plan or design a development intervention or a monitoring, evaluation and learning system.  I am happy to use any tools (including theory of change), as they improve development practice by helping organisations to develop a strong intervention design or concept; identify what it is you will do to bring about change; and build monitoring and evaluation into the design and planning stage (and not as an after-thought).

I find OM to be accessible and down to earth. With terms like “expect, like, love” to describe levels of change instead of short term, medium term and long term objectives, people find it easier to describe they change they want to facilitate.  I have found it useful for all types of groups from community groups to high level researchers in think tanks.

Are you interested in learning more about OM? Southern Hemisphere is offering another course in Johannesburg from 16 – 18 February 2016. This time we are excited to be have Julius Nyangaga as our facilitator. Julius is one of the Stewards of the Outcome Mapping Learning Community. As such he has been very involved in growing and improving Outcome Mapping globally, and throughout Africa in particular.

The objective of this course is to clarify ‘complexity’ and ‘systems’ concepts for use in planning, monitoring & evaluation; introduce and apply the tools of Outcome Mapping; and to critically assess if and how these concepts and tools could be useful in your work.  To find out more visit this page or contact Pippa at

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