Some of the most confused terminologies within the Research, Monitoring and Evaluation field are the words, “input”, “activities”, “outputs”,” outcomes” and “impact”. Within the R, M&E practice, it is important to distinguish between these terms. Understanding these terminologies not only ensures that appropriate indicators are identified, but also that they are effectively measured. Here, we will use specific project cases to demonstrate the difference between these terms.
Inputs are very often confused to be synonymous with activities. However, these terms are not interchangeable. Inputs, in simple terms, are those things that we use in the project to implement it. For example, in any project, inputs would include things like human resource (personnel), finances in the form of money, machinery such a vehicles, and equipment such as public address systems among others. Inputs ensure that it is possible to deliver the intended results of a project.
Activities on the other hand are actions associated with delivering project goals. In other words, they are what the personnel/employees do in order to achieve the aims of the project. In a HIV and AIDS project, for example, activities would include things such as conducting community meetings to sensitize the public on prevention measures, installing condom dispensers at hot-spots, collecting periodic data to monitor project progress among others.
These are the first level of results associated with a project. Often confused with “activities”, outputs are the direct immediate term results associated with a project. In other words, they are usually what the project has achieved in the short term. An easy way to think about outputs is to quantify the project activities that have a direct link on the project goal. For example, project outputs in a HIV and AIDS project would be: the number of community awareness meetings that were done, the number of condom dispensers installed, number of HIV and AIDS infected persons referred for ARTs among others.
This is the second level of results associated with a project and refers to the medium term consequences of the project. Outcomes usually relate to the project goal or aim. For example, in a safe water project, an outcome would be “the percentage of households that are using chlorinated drinking water”. Another outcome could be “the percentage of children suffering from diarrhea.” Nevertheless, an important point to note is that, outcomes should clearly link to project goals.
It is the third level of project results, and is the long term consequence of a project. Most often than not, it is very difficult to ascertain the exclusive impact of a project since several other projects, not similar in nature can lead to the same impact. An example of an impact would be reduced poverty rates, reduced child mortality rates among others. In the case of the Safe Water project, an increase in the number of households using treated water would directly impact on fewer cases of people suffering from diarrhea, meaning that there will be a reduced number of lost man-hours. This has a direct impact on poverty reduction. Also, the number of children suffering from diarrhea may reduce, meaning that the cases of child deaths are reduced.
- M&E Blog (2013), Selecting Project Indicators, here