Outcome Harvesting enables evaluators, grant makers, and managers to identify, formulate, verify, and make sense of outcomes. The approach is inspired by Outcome Mapping and informed by Utilization-Focused Evaluation. Ricardo Wilson-Grau and over two dozen colleagues, between co-evaluators and primary intended users, developed Outcome Harvesting applying and refining it real-life practice.
Outcome Harvesting defines “outcome” as a change in the behaviour writ large — actions, activities, relationships, policies or practices — of one or more societal actors.
Using this approach, the evaluator or harvester identifies demonstrated, verifiable changes in behaviour influenced by an intervention and how a project, programme or initiative plausibly contributed to them. These outcomes can be positive or negative, intended or unintended and the contribution can be large or small. Both, however, must be specific and measurable enough to be verifiable.
Unlike other evaluation approaches, Outcome Harvesting does not necessarily measure progress towards predetermined outcomes or objectives. Rather, the evaluator collects evidence of what has been achieved, and works backward to determine whether and how the project or intervention contributed to the change. In this sense, the approach is analogous to sciences such as forensics, criminal justice or archaeology.
Each application of Outcome Harvesting is customised to the needs of primary intended users and their principal intended uses. Useful and feasible harvesting questions guide the collection, or harvest, of information. The initial sources of information are the individuals or organization whose actions influenced the outcome(s). These people know what has been achieved and are motivated to share what they know.
The outcome descriptions may be as brief as a single sentence or as detailed as page or more of text.
They may include other information: the significance of the outcome, its context, the collaboration with or the contribution of others to the outcome, diverse perspectives on each outcome, the importance of the outcome, or really anything else that will be useful for answering the harvesting questions.
The harvested information is rigorously reviewed to ensure it is complete enough for the intended uses. Then, if necessary for credibility or deeper understanding, select outcomes are validated with knowledgeable, authoritative but independent sources before serving as evidence to answer the questions.
Outcome Harvesting can be used simply to identify outcomes being achieved, for combining this monitoring with evaluative reflection (M&E) in a developmental evaluation mode. And the approach can also be used for formative or summative evaluation of projects, programs or organisations.
Depending on the situation, either an external or internal person can be designated to lead the Outcome Harvesting process. Because of the user focus and the intervention staff serving as sources of information, the highly participatory process fosters ownership of its findings.
If you wish to compare Outcome Harvesting with other evaluation approaches, go to Better Evaluation.