Outcome Harvesting — up close and personal

Image shows the illustration of a bowl from which different things are coming out — dialogue boxes, clouds, paper planes, cogs, and gears. There is text underneath that reads — Outcomes Harvest
This is an illustration of two simplistically drawn people rowing a boat with an arrow that shows the forward direction
  • A robust database of outcomes that your project/initiative contributed to
  • High-quality data points for use in analysis of change patterns
  • Insight into change processes throughout the life of the project/initiative so adjustments can be made to maximize impact

Quick review of the steps of Outcome Harvesting

Speaking from Experience

Tips for Use

  1. The magic is the harvest process
  2. Make the harvest process more human
  3. Use the harvest process to explore other places
  4. Substantiate with a frame of utility
  5. Substantiate with other humans (not just documents)
  6. Analyze with curiosity
Image shows an illustration of a glowing light bulb in the foreground of a cloud

The magic is the harvest process

  • clear learning questions
  • framing to “human sources” (read: staff) about
  • complexity-aware evaluation — staying open to unintended consequences
  • thinking in terms of outcomes, not activities
  • regular times for group discussion, pause, and reflection
  • engagement of multiple voices, not just those with M&E titles or those in power
  • ways to scan the environment, stakeholders, clients, etc. for what has changed
  • great clarity and intention regarding the contribution from the project/initiative/program

Make the harvest process more human

Use the harvest process to explore other places

  • Process. How are these outcomes happening? What about how the team practiced or intervened made a difference?
  • Principles. What are guiding project/program decisions that led up to these outcomes? What guidance would you offer others to contribute to similar outcomes? What are the principles behind your work?
  • Theory of change. Are these expected outcomes? Surprising? Do they align with what you thought your theory of change was? How so
  • Landscape. Who else is regularly contributing to these outcomes? What other factors are influencing — enabling or hindering — outcomes?
  • Level of effort. How much effort is it taking to produce certain outcomes? Are your strategies and/or activities effective? Why or why not?
  • Missing. What isn’t being reported as outcomes? Where are there holes? Are they vital? Did you expect to touch these places?
Image shows an illustration of a chat bubble with three dots inside in the foreground of another partially hidden chat bubble.

Substantiate within a frame of utility

  1. Do this at regular intervals. Don’t wait for it to pile up.
  2. Conduct substantiation internally (If your audience(s) will tolerate this.) Create a procedure through which your M&E staff can conduct substantiation efforts to make it transparent and well documented.
  3. Remember, substantiation can be done via multiple data sources and data collection methods. Use what suits you. We used google forms to great effect — very high response rate, easy 3–4 question forms, lovely additional input. This made it easy to track and gave precise data.

Substantiate with other humans (not just documents)

Analyze with curiosity



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Anna Martin

Anna Martin


Evaluator, Social Worker, Facilitator, Complexity Coach, curious mischief maker and co-founder of Picture Impact.