Outcome Engines Myth Busting

We’ve worked with dozens of SmartyGrants users since launching the Outcomes Engine in late 2021. Here are some of the most common misconceptions that we’ve encountered.

“We don’t need to worry about tracking outcomes”

You may get away with this attitude for a while, but not forever. Taxpayers, donors, ministers, councils, trustees and directors are becoming increasingly discerning about how their precious funds are used. Auditors too. People want to know that they’re getting bang for their buck. While in the past you might have got away with assurance that funds were spent, and no funds were misspent, modern grantmakers need to go beyond that. You need to be able to say what was achieved by the funding. What needle did you shift? How far did you shift it? Did you make any difference at all?

“Outcomes is too hard for me/us”

Don’t be misled by the language that surrounds outcomes and impact tracking (we admit – it can be contradictory and confusing). Tracking to outcomes just means being clear about what you want to achieve through your funding, and working out how you will know if you’re making progress. All the hard work is done by your grantees!

In addition, we’ve thought through and consulted and tested with grantmakers and grantees the best ways to gather the information you need – we provide the scaffolding through the Outcomes Engine.

So there’s no need to be frightened. You can do it!

“It’s a big change and we don’t have time to contemplate it”

You can start collecting outcomes data simply and pretty much immediately. Most grantmakers are already collecting outcomes data. If you ask grantees to identify which of your strategic goals they’re aligning against, you’re collecting outcomes data. If you’re asking grantees to track against a particular metric (e.g. “How many volunteers will be involved”) you’re already collecting outcomes data. If you’re already asking grantees to tell you about the activities they’re going to undertake, you’re already collecting outcomes data. If you ask at the end of a grant for case studies and a report on what went well and what could be improved – yep, you’re already collecting outcomes data.

We can help you swap out your existing questions for Outcomes Engine fields so it flows seamlessly into the Outcomes Engine report templates. Your grantees probably won’t even notice the difference.

We can also help you collect and collate data from your grantees that they’re probably already tracking (but you perhaps didn’t think to ask them about before).

If you want to go further, we can show you how to format and upload an outcomes framework into your account so you can align data against some overarching domains and goals. That’s not necessary for starters, though. The smaller your ambitions, the more quickly you can get going.

“We need to keep it simple for the applicants”

We get it; really, we do! (We were the ones who invented the term “grants rage”!)

Your grantees are time-pressed and it’s better for them to spend time doing their core work than wasting time on complicated forms. We wholeheartedly agree!

The good news is the Outcomes Engine has been designed to scale flexibly with the desires of grantmakers and the capacities of their grantees. You can add as few or as many Outcomes Engine fields as you like. And you can change the wording of any of the questions if you think there’s a better way to express them for your audience.

In essence, when you switch to an outcomes-focused grantmaking lens, you’re not doing more, you’re just doing things differently. You start asking questions that actually help you understand the needs of the communities you fund, and how your grantees are using your precious funds to fulfill those needs.

“We don’t have a decent outcomes framework; we need to do a lot of work to get it right”

You don’t need to have an outcomes framework to start collecting outcomes data. That said, an outcomes framework will allow you to align lots of pieces of data towards a particular set of domains or outcomes, which will give you better reports, so it is handy to have one.

The good news is you don’t need a complex or comprehensive outcomes framework, and you don’t need to do a stack of extra work. You probably already have 90% of what you need hidden in your existing forms, in your guidelines or in your strategy documents. Our experienced Outcomes Engine Navigators can help you find it and put it in the right format, or can put you in touch with evaluation professionals if you want to go deeper.

“Our current forms and programs are a bit of a mess … I don’t want to add to the chaos.”

Many grantmakers find they need to sort out their processes before they can shift to an online grants management system. Similarly, we have found that organisations shifting to outcomes-oriented grantmaking organically start cutting fat out of their forms and cleaning up their guidelines and other systems.

When you shift to an outcomes mindset you develop a laser focus on the end goals. Our Outcomes Engine Navigators will help you draw a clear line from strategy through the application, assessment and acquittal forms and processes, and into your reports; most likely a lot of things that are unimportant – a lot of “noise” – will fall away as you go.

You don’t have to plan for this or bring in extra staff or consultants. Most likely it’ll happen progressively and naturally.

“We need a consultant to come in and review the entire process”

We have consultants who can help! But you don’t need them in order to get started. Our Outcomes Engine Navigators have the skills and knowledge to get you started; and you may not need more than that. You get eight hours of free help when you start using the system.

“I don’t speak this language!”

OK, this isn’t a myth. It’s true that the language of outcomes can be very confusing. One person’s outcome is another person’s impact. It’s hard to unpick the difference between a theory of change and a logic model. There are beneficiaries and there are intermediaries and sometimes there’s overlap between the two. And let’s not even start to talk about all the different types of metrics you need to get your head around.

We’ve done our best to keep things as simple as possible, and to explain our interpretation of the various concepts and terms both to you and (if you wish) to your grantees, through a series of hints and explanations that have been baked into our template framework and our default Standard Sections. Plus we’re there to help if you just need a human to explain things in words.

Get started by finding more about the Outcomes Engine here.