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Shaping Outcomes

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Are you familiar with this course offered through IMLS?  Several SI staff had the opportunity to participate in a training session about this approach yesterday, and it was a real eye-opener.  Here’s an example –

In a typical project, you get an idea.  You plan the program, budgeting resources and costs, and argue successfully for modest funding.  You offer the services and monitor the results. 

Using Outcomes Based Planning and Evaluation, planning of the program includes defining what success will look like for the specific target audience, and how you will evaluate that outcome based on measurable indicators.  It makes you realize the difference between outputs and outcomes, outcomes being so much richer in terms of demonstrating long-term impact on your audience.  And that’s the key – the goals are centered on the end user, the specific target audience, be they African Americans in Chicago, 8th graders on a tour to DC, or 20-somethings with stereotypes on Asians (all actual Smithsonian examples which came up.)

Much of this content may sound like common sense, or like every strategic planning book you’ve ever read.  Many of the methodologies are the same.  But I would recommend this approach nonetheless… the online course is free, and is peppered with really wonderful case studies. 

Especially interesting to me was to see how often the goals I identified were institutional goals, rather than audience goals – the opposite of the Shaping Outcomes objective.  Whether the audience I defined were Affiliate organizations themselves, or the audiences they serve, our goals at Affiliations are the same – that they can access, appreciate, and be transformed by the Smithsonian, the national museum that they support through their tax dollars.  When that happens, it’s as good for us as it hopefully is for the audience.  Maybe that’s not so bad?! 

1 reply
  1. Todd Vandenbark
    Todd Vandenbark says:

    Since you took this course, have you found any additional places to use what you’ve learned? I am a new graduate assistant/project associate working for Shaping Outcomes (SO), and I am following up with people who’ve tried the course and blogged about it. I know that you took the course a long time ago, and I was wondering what (if anything) has “stuck” with you since taking it? Would you recommend it to others, even if there was a modest fee involved?
    Also, FYI, Shaping Outcomes was evaluated positively by IMLS, and has since received another grant to try and become self-sustaining. Updated information about the course structure and fees can be found at our website,
    Have a great day!

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