Jargon-busting impact measurement

(explained by donuts!)

The sweet difference between monitoring, evaluation, outputs, outcomes and impact measurement.

There’s a lot of terminology around monitoring, evaluation and impact measurement. To make matters more confusing, sometimes the terms are used interchangeably.

Within this post I cut through the jargon to try to bring about a common understanding of the terms involved in measuring the difference made through your project or service.

I’ve done a bit of a dry explanation of the key terms and how they are interrelated, below. But stick with me; to fold in some fun to the mix I’ve used a light-hearted example that perhaps we can all relate to – eating donuts!

Explained by donuts, you say?

Imagine, if you will, that people are eating too many donuts. This is causing a huge rise in heart disease and diabetes. Step forward Donuts Anonymous! A project that aims to reduce the consumption of donuts to improve public health. Now, the Theory of Change is undoubtedly flawed; I doubt this project would make any difference, let alone the impact it is seeking to achieve, but here’s a sweet explanation of the terms and how they might relate to this project.



Impact measurement

Impact describes the broad or long-term difference made to individuals, organisations, communities or society.  This can include savings to public budgets or changes in government policy.

Donut explanation of impact: A reduction in recorded rates of heart disease and diabetes, and subsequent NHS savings.

Not everyone should be measuring impact.  Unless your work has a long-term or wider effect, focus your time on measuring measuring outputs and outcomes rather than your wider impact.

Aims and outcomes

Your aims are the broad changes you want to bring about.  Aims are realised when beneficiaries achieve outcomes.

Donut aim: Reduce obesity and its health risks by getting people to eat fewer donuts.

Outcomes are the specific changes that occur for beneficiaries.

Donut outcomes:

  • Participants eat fewer donuts
  • Participants lose at least 7lbs through the programme

Objectives, activities and outputs

Your objectives are the broad areas of work that you do to achieve your aims.

Donut objectives:

  • Increase awareness about the damaging effects of donuts
  • Support people to adopt healthier snack habits

Objectives are achieved by delivering activities, which are the specific actions, tasks or projects that you carry out.

Donut activities: Create and distribute information materials and provide face-to-face support.

Outputs are the specific products or services that result from your activities.

Donut outputs: Weekly ‘Donut Even Think About It’ class, ‘Ditch the Daily Donut Habit’ leaflets and ‘Donut Detox’ Facebook Group.


Inputs are the resources (i.e. materials and people) needed to deliver your activities.

Donut inputs: Dietician, therapist, meeting hall, information materials.


To find out if you are achieving outputs and outcomes, they need to be measurable.

This is done by defining indicators, which are specific pieces of information or data that you collect to see if something is happening; indicators can apply to both outcomes and outputs.

Donut output indicators: Number of people that attend classes; number of leaflets distributed; number of Facebook Group users.

Donut outcome indicators: Number of people who reduce their donut consumption at least by half; number of people who have lost 7lbs or more.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring is the routine collection of output and outcome indicators, as well as information about the type of beneficiaries that you work with.

Evaluation comes in when you analyse this information and use it to improve services.

All of this information can be brought together in a Monitoring and Evaluation framework.  There’s a simple downloadable framework for outcomes developed by Evaluation Support Scotland.

The sugar coated wrap-up

I hope that the light-hearted explanations and infographic is helpful at understanding the common terms involved in monitoring and evaluation, as well as how they are connected, which is the first step in planning how to monitor and evaluate your service(s) and developing a Theory of Change.

Crucially, if done well, it can give you a distinctive competitive advantage and will help you to understand the difference your service(s) make.  You can then make adjustments that take you closer to achieving your sweet vision.

Time for some <herbal tea> coffee and a <rice cracker> donut!

Emma Insley


Emma has first-hand experience of the thrills and terrors of charity leadership. Dedicated to the non-profit sector for 21 years, Emma has both depth and breadth of experience as a CEO, Consultant, Trustee and Chair, Fundraiser and Grants Assessor.


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