The results chain is a description of the various stages of an intervention that lead to the changes that are intended – from the inputs at the start, to the end effects at a societal level for the beneficiaries. The results chain is often drawn as a series of five or six boxes, as shown above.
The first three links in the chain are under the control of the implementer and present no major issues for monitoring and quality management.
(a) Inputs: Funding, staff, vehicles, etc. Easily monitored by administrative, accounting and audit procedures.
(b) Activities: What the intervention does. Easy to monitor by standard record keeping of activities.
(c) Outputs: Anything that we make, do or buy as a result of inputs and activities. The output of landmine clearance is safe land, the output of a training session is people with more skills and knowledge, the output of risk education is people with more knowledge about safe behavior. Outputs are often straightforward for monitoring and QM.
The last three links of the chain are what the donor, implementer and/or beneficiaries want to achieve. They are less and less under the control of the implementer as we move along the chain, and more difficult for monitoring and quality management. These results links are all based on behavior change where the definition of “behavior” also includes attitudes and decision making.
(d) Immediate outcomes: Behavior changes by people other than the donor and implementer, usually a direct result of the outputs. Usually behaviour change by people who are stakeholders. The outcome of landmine clearance is when cleared land is used productively (a behavior change from avoiding the land due to mines to making use of the land), the outcome of training is when people who have been trained start to use their new skills and knowledge, the outcome of risk education is when people demonstrate reduced risk behavior in their everyday lives.
(e) Medium-term outcomes or intermediate outcomes: Downstream behavior changes by people who have little or no direct involvement in the intervention. Measurement and QM of medium-term outcomes can present challenges. One medium-term outcome of land that has been cleared of mines and then used for agriculture is increased food supply within the community. People not directly involved in the project may benefit if there is more food available in the local marketplace. A medium-term outcome of training people how to develop better plans is when the better plans are adopted and implemented, a medium-term outcome of risk education is when people who did not attend the sessions adopt safe behavior because they see and learn from the safe behavior of friends, neighbours and family members who received training.
(f) Impacts: Usually defined as societal-level changes (rather than individual changes) that eventually result from an intervention, and can include both direct and indirect effects as well as both positive and negative effects (this is a very similar definition to the way “impacts” is defined in evaluation criteria). Improved nutritional status of children in a village may be the long-term result of clearing mines from farmland, this improvement may happen more quickly if more people get their land cleared sooner due to the impact of better planning. Measuring impacts is difficult, and requires a long-term commitment beyond the end of the project for the effects to be realized. Very few interventions make any real provision to continue learning after the end of a project and instead it is common to incorrectly label a few immediate outcomes as impacts in order to supply data. Impacts frequently fall into four broad categories: health (including nutrition, etc.), wealth (economic benefits of any type), wellbeing (social, educational, emotional) and compliance with legal or political commitments (e.g. a national poverty reduction strategy, the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention).
The results chain is a highly simplified, linearized view of a complex social process and is not suitable for interventions that are fully within the “complex domain”. Simplification is necessary to make planning possible. The key step is the link between outcome and outputs. This model is suited to linear or ordered systems (see Cynefin framework) and even though it is often used in complex environments, the lack of evident cause and effect in complex adaptive systems means that it is not really suitable.