When conducting a program evaluation, governments and NGOs are often asked to distill a program’s mission down to a handful of outcomes that, it is understood, will be used to define success. Adding to this difficulty, each outcome must be further simplified to an indicator such as the response to a survey question, or the score on a test.
More than daunting, this task can appear impossible and the request, absurd. In the process, evaluators can come across as caring only about data and statistics—not the lives of the people targeted by the program.
For certain goals, the corresponding indicators naturally follow. For example, if the goal of distributing chlorine tablets is to reduce waterborne illness, the related outcome may be a reduction in diarrhea. The corresponding indicator, incidence of diarrhea, could come from one question in a household survey where respondents are asked directly, “Has anyone in the household suffered from diarrhea in the past week?”
For other goals, such as “empowering women,” or “improving civic mindedness” the outcomes may not fall as neatly into place. That doesn’t mean that most goals are immeasurable. Rather, more thought and creativity must go into devising their corresponding indicators. For an example of difficult-to-measure outcomes, see the attached article.