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Evaluation guidance - intro

What is an outcomes approach?

An outcomes approach means considering the changes you want to bring about with your project, and evaluating its success by exploring to what extent those changes have been achieved (for example, children felt more confident at the end of a project than at the beginning).

The opposite of an outcomes approach is an outputs approach, where a project is evaluated solely based on tasks carried out and numbers achieved (for example, 50 children took part in a concert).

At Youth Music, the outcomes approach underpins everything we do as a charity and grant maker, guiding us towards our aim of a musically inclusive England. The outcomes approach is designed to help any organisation plan their activities, monitor progress and evaluate their project. Over the past decade, use of the outcomes approach has increased significantly across the charity and cultural sectors, helping organisations to better understand the benefits of their work and deliver better results for their participants and stakeholders.

This guide explains the general principles of taking an outcomes approach and shows you how to apply it to a music-making project for children and young people.

Why take an outcomes approach?

Youth Music is interested not only in what you’re doing, but in why you’re doing it. We want you to apply for funding and deliver your projects with a clear idea of your intended outcomes, or the changes that you are working to bring about. The outcomes approach provides a clear framework for your project, from planning to evaluation. Its purpose is to help you channel your efforts where they can make the biggest difference and to support you in measuring and evidencing the changes you have made.

Youth Music funds developmental music-making projects for children and young people, and strategic work to support the development of the workforce, organisations, and the wider sector. Following this guidance will help you to determine the musical, personal, and social outcomes you want to help children and young people achieve, as well as the workforce and organisational outcomes needed to ensure the quality and sustainability of this work.

Taking an outcomes approach has benefits for a wide range of stakeholders:

  • Benefits for your workforce and organisation
    • Understanding what you aim to achieve through your project
    • Identifying the outcomes of your project for participants and stakeholders
    • Providing confidence that you are delivering an effective project
    • Supporting organisational planning by ensuring that your work is fit for purpose
    • Reflecting on your practice on a regular basis in order to continually improve the quality of your work
    • Demonstrating accountability to your stakeholders
    • Building a robust evidence base which could help you secure further funding from a variety of sources
  • Benefits for Youth Music
    • Understanding the impact of our funding
    • Identifying learning and effective practice to share with the wider sector
    • Supporting future grant-making decisions by providing evidence of what works
    • Demonstrating accountability as a recipient of public funding from the National Lottery via Arts Council England
    • Advocating on behalf of the sector about the impact of music-making
  • Benefits for the wider sector
    • Learning about effective practice in other organisations
    • Improving the quality of their practice by integrating this learning
    • Developing a culture of outcomes-focused, evidence-based working
  • Benefits for children and young people
    • Through benefits to all these stakeholders, taking an outcomes approach supports the quality and sustainability of music-making projects across the sector and ultimately leads to better outcomes for children and young people in challenging circumstances.

The basic principles that underpin the outcomes approach are similar to other planning and evaluation frameworks. For example, you might have come across the terms ‘action-research cycle’, ‘plan, do, review’, or ‘theory of change’. They are all closely related and follow a similar process.