NEO Shop Talk November 18th, 2017
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Results-Based Accountability and Outcomes-Based Evaluation: Same Thing?

Posted by on September 15th, 2017 Posted in: Blog, Bloggers' Bookshelf, Practical Evaluation


Green line graphWe are currently working with performance measures and indicators in assessing the programs of the NNLM. As a starting point, we’ve looked to the Common Metrics Initiative being used by Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) institutions.  CTSA institutions vary widely in their projects, but they are using a set of common metrics to demonstrate measurable improvements towards advancing translational research and workforce development.

The Common Metrics Initiative is based on the Results-Based Accountability (RBA) Framework.  A guide to understanding this concept is on the Illinois Department of Human Services website: The Results-Based Accountability Guide. This was my first encounter with Results-Based Accountability. While it has a lot in common with the outcomes-based evaluation, it has some additional facets.

One thing they have in common is that the first thing you do is start at the end – the change you want to see – and then work backwards to the activities.  However in RBA, one interesting distinction is whether or not the “end” change was “population accountability” or “performance accountability.”  Population accountability is used if the desired end is to improve the quality of life for a population.  Performance accountability is if the desired end concerns how well a program, agency or service system is performing.

In the vocabulary of RBA, the metrics used for “population accountability” are called indicators, and they are what you would measure to show the changes you want to see in a population.  At this point, I’m thinking “aha, population accountability is like outcomes evaluation, and performance accountability is like process evaluation.”

But not so fast. According to the RBA framework, in performance accountability, the metrics are called performance measures, and they show how well your program is performing.  Here’s where it’s different from process evaluation.  In performance accountability, there are three kinds of performance measures:

  • How much are we doing?
  • How well are we doing it?
  • Is anyone better off?

Ultimately that last kind of performance measure, “is anyone better off,” is what we would have called an outcome measure.  But in terms of the RBA’s performance accountability, the focus is whether or not the program is doing what it needs to to ensure that someone is better off.  Performance accountability includes outcomes in its understanding of the degree to which a program has been performed successfully.

There is a lot more than this to the process of Results-Based Accountability. In fact, I feel a little guilty leaving it at this.  However, you can read the guide for yourself.  If we use any of the processes they recommend, we will be sure to share how they work here in the Shop Talk.

Image of the author ABOUT Karen Vargas
As Evaluation Specialist for the NNLM Evaluation Office (NEO), Karen Vargas participates in evaluating the programs of the NNLM, assists people with their program and evaluation planning, and teaches classes on planning and evaluating library programs.

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