Outcomes and indicators

Open University

Why ask applicants to identify key outcomes?

We think it’s helpful for applicants to identify the key outcomes they seek to achieve as a result of the work that we fund.

  1. It helps organisations think through and express in tangible ways the intended results of their work.
  2. It allows us to grasp more easily and assess what we might be funding
  3. If we award a grant, it gives us an agreed framework within which we can both monitor progress as the work proceeds.

What do we mean by key outcomes?

The “key outcomes” of your grant are what you want to achieve as a result of the work we fund. They should directly contribute towards the larger aim of your organisation – the impact you want to have.

We have found the free advice and tools produced by the Charities Evaluation Service helpful in developing our approach to outcomes and reporting. It recommends using a planning triangle, thinking about your work in terms of:

  • its overall aim (your purpose)
  • the specific aims which will contribute towards this (your outcomes),
  • the activities you will carry out to create these outcomes (your outputs, or objectives)

You can express each outcome in the way that makes most sense to your organisation, but we don’t want a list of activities. We want to know what you’re trying to achieve with these activities – what will be the result?

The majority of our grants are for core costs, so one of your outcomes might be about the development of your organisation.


For each outcome we will ask you for the indicators you will use to monitor your progress. An indicator should be realistic - something you are able to track and gather evidence on.

Charities Evaluation Service defines outcome indicators as “well defined pieces of information that can be assessed or measured to show whether outcomes have been achieved. These show that the outcome has actually happened, or that progress is being made towards it. Outcome indicators can be quantitative or qualitative.

  • Quantitative indicators count numbers of things that happen.
  • Qualitative indicators assess people’s perceptions and experiences.”

There may be many possible indicators for each outcome. As with outcomes themselves, we just need you to identify and report on the key ones – the most relevant to what you’re trying to achieve.

If you have a target number you’re aiming for (eg 50% of participating young people remain in education), do include it, but not if you can’t yet put a number on exactly what success would look like. We don’t want you to bind yourself to something that later becomes impossible to deliver.

Examples of outcomes and indicators:
Outcome: Indicator(s):
  • Larger and more diverse audiences attend opera performances in East Anglia
  • Audiences are more representative of the local population
  • The most harmful hormone disrupting chemicals are phased out of farming and food packaging
  • Three chemicals that are currently used extensively are no longer used in consumer products
  • Preventative approaches to the needs of parents with learning difficulties and their families become more widespread.
  • Fewer children with learning disabled parents are taken into state care
  • Systemic changes and improvements in the delivery of welfare benefits at local and national level
  • Target at least one improved process at local / national level each year.
  • Casework reports better communication for clients from statutory agencies.
  • The organisation becomes more financially sustainable.
  • Income sources diversified
  • Grant levels from statutory agencies

Our tips:
  • Tell us about the planned results of your work – what would success look like?
  • Keep it simple – try to focus on one change or achievement per outcome.
  • Indicators should be the most relevant and realistic things you can track, that will indicate your progress towards each outcome.
  • You don’t have to include specific targets or numbers in the wording of the outcomes.
  • Be ambitious, but not so ambitious it won’t be possible to understand or report on your progress.
  • It might not always be about positive change – sometimes issues are so difficult that not worsening or keeping the status quo is enough of a challenge.
  • Your outcomes should relate to your organisation’s strategic aim, or mission.

How will we use your data?

We think data and evidence is important. We try to fund organisations who use it to inform their practice, and we’re developing our own use of data to be a more effective funder. However, we won’t ask anyone we fund to collect data just for us, that isn’t useful to them.

In the context of our funding strategy, we will use your progress reports to test our own effectiveness as a funder. We will share any learning which comes from this with those we fund and the wider sector through our Insight Reports.

Nothing is set in stone

We will discuss the wording of your outcomes and indicators during the assessment process, to ensure that we can both identify lessons from the work. It will be a negotiation, but you should tell us what you think.

We understand that expectations and goals change over time and that some work may be exploratory, so outcomes and indicators might need to be revised over the course of any grant. We’re keen to listen to you and learn from this, and particularly interested to hear about unexpected or unplanned outcomes, positive or negative.