People often tell us that they come across different definitions, confusing explanations, and contradictory advice relating to impact practice.
This is a simple glossary of definitions for terms around impact practice and the components of a theory of change. It can be a useful place to start when navigating your way through our cycle of good impact practice.
- Activities: The actions, tasks and work a project or organisation carries out to create its outputs and outcomes, and achieve its aims. Can also be called processes or interventions.
- Attribution: An assessment of how much change was caused by an intervention, programme or organisation.
- Baseline: Information about the situation that a project or organisation is trying to change, showing what it is like before it intervenes.
- Benchmark: A standard of achievement that an organisation or project (or others like it) has already achieved, which they can compare current achievement to or use to set a target.
- Counterfactual / Deadweight: An assessment of how much change would have happened for beneficiaries without your work.
- Evaluation: Using information from monitoring and elsewhere to judge the performance of an organisation or project.
- Feedback: What users think of activities, products or services. For example, the location, opening hours or how helpful workers are.
- Hard outcomes: Outcomes that are objective, clear and obvious. For example involving an observable change in people’s behaviour or circumstances (e.g. securing a job).
- Indicator: Well-defined information which shows whether or not something is happening.
- Intermediate (or interim) outcomes: Shorter-term changes that happen as steps on the way to other outcomes and impact. They can be thought of as changes in knowledge / attitudes or behaviours that might contribute to longer-term impact.
- Impact: Longer-term effects of a project or organisation’s work that people achieve for themselves. This can include effects on people who are direct users of a project or organisation’s work, effects on those who are not direct users, or effects on a wider field such as government policy.
- Impact practice: What an organisation does to understand and improve its impact. This can include planning desired impact, planning how to measure it, collecting information about it, making sense of that information, communicating it and learning from it.
- Logic model: A simpler version of a theory of change that lists activities, outcomes and impact.
- Mechanism: The process through which your activities and outcomes will cause the outcomes and impact you want to see. Can also be thought of as how people will experience your work and how that experience will encourage or spark them to make changes.
- Monitoring / routine data collection: The information your organisation collects routinely through delivering your services – for example application forms, registers, client management systems.
- Overall aim or goal: Describes why the organisation exists and the broad effect it wants to have. It summarises the difference that an organisation wants to make.
- Outcomes: The changes, benefits, learning or other effects that result from what the project or organisation makes, offers or provides.
- Outputs: Products, services or facilities that result from an organisation’s or project’s activities. For example, workshops, leaflets, case work sessions or a brokerage service.
- Pilot: A way of testing out the effectiveness of a new project, service or intervention by applying it to a small group and getting feedback on the process.
- Quantitative data: Quantitative data is numerical – for example, responses to multiple choice or rating scale questions in a survey. Analysing quantitative data can help you generate findings on how much change has occurred as a result of your work and who has experienced change.
- Qualitative data: Qualitative data is not numerical. It may include open-ended responses to questionnaires, data from interviews or focus groups, or creative responses such as photographs, pictures or videos. Analysing qualitative data can help you produce findings on the nature of change that individuals or organisations you work with have experienced. You may also be able to look at what aspects of the way you work have led to change.
- Self-evaluation: When an organisation uses its internal expertise to carry out its own evaluation.
- Shared measurement: Shared measurement involves organisations working on similar issues, and towards similar goals, reaching a common understanding of what to measure, and collaboratively developing the tools to do so.
- Soft outcomes: Outcomes that are less easy to observe or measure, or which involve some form of change inside people, such as a change in attitude or a change in the way they see themselves. These are also known as social and emotional skills.
- Social Return on Investment (SROI): Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a framework for understanding, measuring and managing outcomes and impacts. It is based on involving stakeholders in determining the relevant outcomes and puts financial values on the significant changes identified by stakeholders.
- Stakeholders: The people or groups who have an interest in the activities of an organisation. This can include staff, volunteers, users, customers, suppliers, trustees, funders, commissioners, donors, purchasers, investors, supporters or members.
- Targets: A defined level of achievement which a project or organisation sets itself to achieve in a specific period of time.
- Target group: The precise characteristics of the people you aim to reach and influence.
- Theory of change: A process for thinking about an organisation or project’s ‘story,’ logically linking target group, activities, outcomes and impact. It encourages people to consider how change happens in the short, medium and long term to achieve the intended impact. Theory of change is often associated with some sort of visual map, but could also be set out as a set of tables or charts.
Definitions were agreed by the Inspiring Impact jargon buster group – an informal partnership of voluntary sector organisations, funders, government departments and regulatory bodies – and added to by NPC.
This webpage has been adapted from the Inspiring Impact programme, which ran from 2011 until early 2022 and supported voluntary organisations to improve their impact practice. More information about the Inspiring Impact programme.