The terms we use

There are many specific terms used around impact and outcomes planning, measurement and communication. Often these terms are used in different ways in different contexts.

Through Inspiring Impact we bring together a range of evaluation support bodies and work closely with a large variety of voluntary organisations and social enterprises around impact. Here we set out our common understanding of terms related to impact and explain how we use them within the Inspiring Impact resources and communications.




The actions, tasks and work a project or organisation carries out to create its outputs and outcomes, and achieve its aims.  Also sometimes called processes.


An assessment of how much change was caused by people, projects and organisations, and how much by whom.


Information about the situation that a project or organisation is trying to change, showing what it is like before it intervenes.


A standard of achievement that an organisation or project (or others like it) has already achieved, which they can compare current achievement to or use to set a target.



An assessment of how much change would have happened for beneficiaries without your work.


Using information from monitoring and elsewhere to judge the performance of an organisation or project.

Hard outcomes

Outcomes that are clear and obvious, or which involve an external change in people’s behaviour or circumstances (e.g. securing a job).


Well-defined information which shows whether or not something is happening.


(or interim) outcomes

Smaller changes that happen as steps on the way to other outcome/s. They are often changes that need to happen before the final, desired outcome can be reached.


Broad or longer-term effects of a project or organisation’s work. This can include effects on people who are direct users of a project or organisation’s work, effects on those who are not direct users, or effects on a wider field such as government policy.

Impact practice

Activities that an organisation does to understand and improve its impact. This can include planning desired impact, planning how to measure it, collecting information about it, making sense of that information, communicating it and learning from it.

Overall aim or goal

Describes why the organisation exists and the broad effect it wants to have. It summarises the difference that an organisation wants to make.


The changes, benefits, learning or other effects that result from what the project or organisation makes, offers or provides.  


Products, services or facilities that result from an organisation’s or project’s activities.  For example, workshops, leaflets, case work sessions or a brokerage service. 


A way of testing out the effectiveness of a new system by applying it to a small group and getting feedback on the process.


When an organisation uses its internal expertise to carry out its own evaluation.

Shared measurement

Shared measurement involves organisations working on similar issues, and towards similar goals, reaching a common understanding of what to measure, and collaboratively developing the tools to do so.

Soft outcomes

Outcomes that are less easy to observe or measure, or which involve some form of change inside people, such as a change in attitude or a change in the way they see themselves.  


Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a framework for understanding, measuring and managing outcomes and impacts. It is based on involving stakeholders in determining the relevant outcomes and puts financial values on the significant changes identified by stakeholders.


The people or groups who have an interest in the activities of an organisation. This can include staff, volunteers, users, customers, suppliers, trustees, funders, commissioners, donors, purchasers, investors, supporters or members.


A defined level of achievement which a project or organisation sets itself to achieve in a specific period of time.

Theory of change

A model that graphically depicts an organisation or project’s ‘story,’ logically linking outputs, outcomes and impact.  It shows how change happens in the short, medium and long term to achieve the intended impact. Theory of change is often associated with some sort of visual map, but could also be set out as a set of tables or charts.

User satisfaction

What users think of activities, products or services. For example, the location, opening hours or how helpful workers are.

This shared glossary builds on the work of the Jargonbuster group – an informal partnership of funders, government departments, regulatory bodies and voluntary sector organisations, which ran from 2003 until 2016. The group agreed shared definitions for terms relating to impact and evaluation. Thanks to all who contributed over the years.