Outcome Harvesting determines whether and how an intervention has contributed to change by collecting (‘harvesting’) evidence of what has changed (‘outcomes’). Unlike traditional evaluation approaches, Outcome Harvesting does not ‘verify’ whether predetermined objectives or outcomes have been achieved, but operates the other way round: working backward, it starts from observable changes to determine whether and how an intervention has contributed to these changes.
Outcome Harvesting is rooted in Outcome Mapping principles (actor-oriented behavioural change) and it is especially useful in covering a wide variety of results when a more specific ladder of change is difficult to construct. Outcome Harvesting has proven its value in complex situations where changes are not linear but rather difficult to predict, such as in lobby & advocacy or social change processes.
At the core of Outcome Harvesting are actors (people, organisations, networks) as drivers of change processes. Accordingly, outcomes are defined as behavioural changes such as actions, relationships, policies or practices by one or more social actors influenced by an intervention. As behaviour can be observed and measured, assessing behaviour using this qualitative method has proven fruitful. Examples of outcomes include a change in behaviour between organisations or between communities, changes in regulations, formal laws or cultural norms. The outcomes can be positive or negative, intended or unintended, direct or indirect. The data collection processes used are specifically designed to capture both expected and unexpected outcomes. As a result, Outcome Harvesting enables defining a plausible connection between the intervention and these outcomes and provides a comprehensive and realistic picture of the actual progress made.
Outcome Harvesting applies a broad spectrum of techniques to yield evidence-based answers to the following questions:
[from Ricardo Wislon-Grau]
As a practice-oriented consultancy, MDF uses Outcome Harvesting as a component of its evaluation services, which is especially useful in assessing long-standing cooperation processes. In consultation with organisations, MDF operates as follows:
Depending on the demands and the context, MDF uses Outcome Harvesting flexibly and in complementarity with Outcome Mapping.
MDF uses Outcome Harvesting as a participatory tool for learning purposes about the change that actually took place, the way in which this change relates to the intervention, and finally the implications for the strategic framework. Hereby, MDF responds to the ambition of a growing number of organisations to inform discussions – already within their review processes – about progress made against the background of the initial strategic framework, as well as shaping recommendations on future implementation and other strategic steps.