Defining Positive Outcomes (Stanford Social Innovation Review)

Coming soon: Increasingly, social change initiatives in the United States are pursuing not just program outputs but positive outcomes in the lives of the people they aim to help. However, determining whether a program is actually changing people’s lives can be extremely complex work. Positive outcomes can mean very different things to different people. Government officials, social entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, and impact investors all have unique expectations, and a shared definition of positive outcomes may not be possible. 

Still, for social innovators implementing models like pay-for-success, picking apart these challenges and complexities is a worthwhile endeavor that can encourage organizations to learn and improve. A learning mindset, in turn, can increase the number of people served, improve program effectiveness, and create lasting systems change.

In this series, produced in partnership with Third Sector Capital Partners, contributors from a variety of sectors will discuss how we might define positive outcomes, whether on the level of individuals or in terms of macro-level policy. A common theme throughout the series is the belief that data and measurement are core components of any effort to truly improve the lives of people in need.