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Way, way back I wrote a post on Systems perspective on health and wellbeing where I touched on the problems associated with performance frameworks derived from the concept of ‘outcomes’.  Although the post was ages ago, it’s still something that is current in my mind – not least because my friend who I mentioned in that post is currently writing a paper about this very issue.  I read through an early draft and am looking forward to his next version.

My exploration into projects, which started with this post, has just brought me into touch with some interesting material – you know, when someone else explains really well what you have been thinking but have been unable to articulate.

In their book, Images of Projects, Winter and Szczepanek describe a number of different images of projects (which they define as temporary purposeful action) – one of which is an image of projects as value creation processes.  They use the term ‘outcomes’ to refer to the value and benefit a project is trying to create – the ‘why’ of the piece of work.  Outputs on the other hand are the ‘what’ of the piece of work – things that can be specified in terms of quality and features and then delivered.

They end their description with a key question – can value really be ‘delivered’ through projects?  In other words, can we really claim to deliver outcomes.

They state

So, what does delivering value and benefit really mean in the context of projects? A short pragmatic answer is that value and benefit are the perceived results that emerge over time from the combined activities and interactions of all those involved, as opposed to physical ‘things’ that can be delivered.  They are emergent phenomena and as the late Richard Normann points out, creating value has much to do with dialogue and learning, for as he states ‘value creation is a community process‘.  And being an emergent community process, value creation can often take considerable time,…

Winter and Szczepanek (2009, 126, italics in original)

Again, this sort of insight goes to show how odd it is that funding regimes expect VCS organisations to report outcomes every quarter. And how odd it is that action plan templates have an ‘outcome’ column for every action you take.  And that we think we know how to measure these “perceived results” in an ‘objective’ manner based on a single perspective.  And that services tend to claim the value created even though it depends on actions taken by others – especially their customers.

It’s a shame that such a concept was hi-jacked by people who only know about ‘performance management’. 😈


Winter, Mark & Szczepanek, Tony, 2009. Images of Projects, Farnham: Gower Publishing Ltd.

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