Outcomes Harvesting: A Different type of Evaluation Method


Over the course of the next few weeks I will be showcasing methods that don't fit in the 'traditional evaluation methods box'. These methods may be interesting to persons wishing to explore other methods for conducting evaluations'. In this article the spotlight will be on Outcomes Harvesting (OH).

What is Outcomes Harvesting?

Outcome Harvesting collects (“harvests”) evidence of what has changed (“outcomes”) and then, working backwards, determines whether and how an intervention has contributed to these changes. The approach is inspired by Outcome Mapping and informed by Utilization-Focused Evaluation. It was developed by Ricardo Wilson-Grau and colleagues.*

*Barbara Klugman, Claudia Fontes, David Wilson-Sánchez, Fe Briones Garcia,Gabriela Sánchez, Goele Scheers, Heather Britt, Jennifer Vincent, Julie Lafreniere, Juliette Majot, Marcie Mersky, Martha Nuñez, Mary Jane Real, NataliaOrtiz, and Wolfgang Richert.

Why is OH considered different from most other evaluation methods?

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.

Photo credit: Meleck Davis,The Improve Group

When is OH best used?

  • When the focus is primarily on outcomes rather than activities.

  • For evaluations that are on-going developmental, mid-term formative, and end-of-term summative evaluations.

  • When a highly participatory monitoring and evaluation process can be facilitated.

  • For complex programmes where relations of cause and effect are not fully known are understood. For this reason OH is sometimes dubbed a 'complexity-aware' method.

How is OH done?​

Image is reproduced from https://www.betterevaluation.org/en/plan/approach/outcome_harvesting

What are the strengths of OH?

  • Can capture unintended and unexpected outcomes of interventions.

  • Does not rely on pre-determined ouctomes and generates verifiable outcomes during the evaluation process.

  • Uses a common-sense, accessible approach that engages informants quite easily.

  • Employs various data collection methods such as interviews and surveys (face-to-face, by telephone, by e-mail), workshops and document review.

  • Provided concrete evidence to answer evaluation questions.

What are the limitations/challenges of OH?

  • Skill and time, as well as timeliness, are required to identify and formulate high-quality outcome descriptions.

  • Only those outcomes that informants are aware of, are captured.

  • The participation of those who influenced the outcomes is crucial.

  • It can be challenging for some participants to engage in a method that requires working backwards (that is, starting with the observed changes).

Hopefully this brief article has given you an introduction to OH. There are many resources online such as at www.betterevaluation.org if you wish to learn more about the method.

Author's Note: This article is dedicated to the memory of Ricardo Wilson-Grau, one of the developer of the OH method who recently passed away. He was a dear colleague and friend of mine. I will never forget the day when he said 'Remember Ann, be bold!' Those words coming from someone whom I greatly admired and respected set me on a path to be fearless in taking my M&E career and life to the next level. Rest in peace my friend, your legacy lives on.

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