What are outcomes and impacts?
Outcomes are the short-term and intermediate changes that occur in learners, program participants, visitors, etc. as a direct result of the environmental education (EE) activity, program, or experience.
Impacts are the broader changes that occur within the community, organization, society, or environment as a result of program outcomes.
What’s the difference between outcomes and impacts?
The following table illustrates the primary differences between outcomes and impacts, using the context of a neighborhood EE program focused on creek stewardship.
Short and Intermediate ChangesExample: During the EE program, participants make a resolution to conduct a neighborhood campaign to clean up their creek (intention)
Longer-term ChangesExample: A year after the program ended, less pollutants are entering the creek
Effects on participants either at the individual or group levelExample: Program participants take part in weekend events to plant native grasses and trees along the creek (behavior)
Effects on the entire school, community, society at large, or in the environmentExample: Improved water quality of the creek
How are outcomes used in evaluation?
Outcome evaluations examine the direct effects of the EE program on participants and should provide insight into how to improve the program. Common desired outcomes of EE programs include benefits to individuals and groups in the following five areas. The first four of these are typically seen as prerequisites for the ultimate outcome of behavior change (Rockwell & Bennett, 2004):
Participants gain knowledge about the environment and its associated problems, can recall it from memory, comprehend its meaning, and/or are able to explain it (UNESCO, 1978). Typical knowledge outcomes of EE programs include knowledge about the environment, the phenomena that shape it, and its associated problems and their potential solutions.
Participants gain the verbal, mental, or physical abilities needed to engage in targeted behaviors (Rockwell & Bennett, 2004). In EE, these are typically the thinking and action skills relevant to identifying, preventing, and addressing environmental problems (UNESCO, 1978).
Participants develop emotional tendencies and beliefs that are in line with environmental responsibility. Environmental attitude outcomes may include improved attitudes toward nature, the built environment, or how humans relate to their environment (UNESCO, 1978; Thomson and Hoffman, 2003).
- Intention to act:
Participants intend to act in a specific way or accomplish a goal that fosters environmental protection or improvement. Intention to act can range from a mental intent to do something to a carefully elaborated, communicated plan of action.
- Behavior change:
Participants act in ways that benefit the environment. This may include changing lifestyle habits, participating in restoration activities, advocating for environmental policy changes, or taking other actions aligned with environmental protection and improvement.
How are impacts used in evaluation?
Impact evaluations seek to assess broad, long-term changes that occur as a result of a program. An impact evaluation may, for example, show that lower rates of community-wide solid waste accumulation were the direct result of a school EE program promoting community recycling and composting behaviors. Because it can take many months or years for a program’s most significant impacts to take place, long-term evaluations are often necessary to assess program impacts (Thomson and Hoffman, 2003).
Impacts of EE programs may include:
- Educational impacts
Educational impacts contribute to meeting long-term education goals. These impacts include long-term effects on learners, teachers, or the learning environment. Examples of educational impacts include improved:
- academic performance overall or in specific subjects
- rates of graduation, college entrance, or employment
- teacher retention
Educational impacts may also consist of enhanced conditions for learning and teaching, such as improvements in the physical learning environment (e.g., the addition of schoolyard habitats) and improved relationships between students, teachers, and the community.
- Environmental impacts
Environmental impacts are positive environmental changes. These impacts include improvements in environmental quality and prevention of environmental harms. Environmental impacts of EE programs occur as a result of changes in participants’ behavior (e.g., lifestyle changes, participating in environmental action projects, etc.). Environmental impacts, like other impacts, can be small-scale (e.g. decreased litter in a school yard) or large-scale (e.g. increased community recycling rates).
- Health impacts
Positive changes in human health and health care resulting from the program. Human health outcomes may include lower rates of disease, disability, injury, mortality, and greater wellbeing. Health care outcomes may include environmentally healthier facilities for health care, improved rates of correct diagnosis of environmental health problems, and greater communication of environmental health risks between doctors and patients.
Rockwell, Kay and Bennett, Claude. “Targeting Outcomes of Programs: A Hierarchy for Targeting Outcomes and Evaluating Their Achievement”. (2004). Faculty Publications: Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication Department. Paper 48. Retrieved July, 2013 from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/aglecfacpub/48
Thomson, G. and J. Hoffman (2003). Measuring the success of Environmental Education programs. Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and Sierra Club of Canada. Retrieved August, 2010 from http://macaw.pbworks.com/f/measuring_ee_outcomes.pdf
UNESCO. (1978). Declaration of the first intergovernmental conference on Environmental Education, Tbilisi, 1977.