Reaping Evidence: The Power of Outcome Harvesting in Evaluation
What is Outcome Harvesting?
Picture this, instead of predicting the outcomes of a project or program from the start, you collect them as they emerge, just like a farmer harvesting crops.
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. That's Outcome Harvesting in a nutshell. It's an innovative evaluation method used primarily in complex, unpredictable environments where traditional ways of setting goals and measuring success might not work as well.
How Does It Differ from Traditional Evaluation Methods?
Traditional evaluation methods often start with a set of predefined objectives. Evaluators then measure how well these objectives are met. Outcome Harvesting, on the other hand, flips this approach on its head. It begins without predefined outcomes. Instead, it identifies, documents, and interprets the outcomes that actually occurred, regardless of whether they were initially planned.
How is Outcome Harvesting done?
The process of Outcome Harvesting can be broken down into several key steps:
Design the harvest - This involves bringing together all relevant stakeholders, including project implementers, beneficiaries, and funders, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the context and purposes of the evaluation. Here you will define use and users of the harvest, develop outcome harvesting questions, identify boundaries of the harves and develop a plan for conducting the harvest
Review documentation and draft outcome descriptions - This step involves identifying potential sources of data to collect evidence of change, reviewing data sources to identify outcomes/change and drafting outcome description statements
Engage with informants - Identify informants relevant to each outcome and interview informants to validate and enrich outcome data. You also triangulate outcome descriptions across informants
Substantiation of Outcomes - Once outcomes are identified, they need to be substantiated or verified. This means collecting evidence and testimony to confirm that these outcomes really occurred and are attributable to the intervention.
Analysis of Outcomes: This involves analyzing the outcomes to understand their significance and implications. It includes looking at the contribution of the intervention to these outcomes, the context in which they occurred, and the mechanisms through which they were achieved.
Supporting Use of Findings - Outcome Harvesting is not just about accountability; it also supports learning. This step involves using the insights gained from the analysis to inform ongoing decision-making and adaptation of the program.
Documentation and Reporting: Finally, the outcomes and the learnings from the process are documented and reported to relevant stakeholders. This documentation serves as a record of the impact of the intervention and a source of learning for future projects.
When is Outcome Harvesting Ideal?
Outcome Harvesting is particularly useful in situations where:
The environment is dynamic and unpredictable.
It’s hard to set specific objectives at the start.
Projects or programs are innovative or experimental. You’re dealing with social change initiatives, where outcomes are often nonlinear and emergent.
What are the Pros and Cons of Outcome Harvesting?
Flexibility: It adapts to changes and unexpected outcomes.
Relevance: It captures actual changes, providing real-world insights.
Empowerment: It involves stakeholders actively, giving them a voice in the evaluation.
Time-Consuming: It requires regular data collection and analysis.
Skill-Intensive: It demands a certain level of expertise to interpret the data correctly.
Less Predictability: Without predefined objectives, it can be challenging to gauge progress in the traditional sense!
In a Nutshell Outcome Harvesting is like taking a journey without a fixed destination. You set out to explore, observe, and collect the valuable treasures – outcomes – that you encounter along the way. It's a method that embraces uncertainty and values the unexpected, making it a powerful tool in the ever-changing landscape of project and program evaluation.
Learn more at the Outcome Harvesting workshop on 28 February 2024 at 14:00 CET. The workshop is free for members of the Academy.
If you are not yet a member, and wish to join the Academy so you can get access to the workshop, please hit the button below.