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Demonstrating Performance: A Primer for Expenditure Reviews (June 2008)

Pre-condition #2: Clear Ends (Outcomes) and Means (Outputs and Coverage)

Basic logic checks provide critical information, and are essential when inadequate data is available to confirm performance. Four basic checks are common:

  • Outcome goals must match the needs identified in #1 (above). The best goals state where (or for whom) and by how much specific, measurable outcomes will improve.
  • The major outputs must be supported by evidence – or at least robust expectation – that they will improve core outcomes in the areas specified.
  • Outputs must be clearly specified, if only to help managers meet quality standards.
  • Coverage should be limited to areas or groups with the needs identified above. (But coverage may well be narrower, eg, due to responsiveness or to logistic barriers.)

Logic checks tests are based on ‘results chains’. Results chains set out in stark terms what must happen before the outcomes sought can eventuate. Results chains provide a succinct summary of the policy’s design, make its goals explicit, and show how it is meant to work (Appendix 1). If the design appears weak, improvement must precede funding.

Results chains provide the specification and measures needed to verify performance. A clear results chain allows leaders to surface assumptions, and confirm funding is warranted. But remember, logic checks are only as good as the underlying theory:

  • Complexity can mask major problems (“If you cannot understand it, don’t buy it!”).
  • Superior outputs may exist (a separate policy process is needed to look for these).
  • Vital assumptions can be omitted (reveal them by looking from many perspectives).
  • The ultimate logic check is ex post proof of effectiveness (i.e. fact trumps theory).
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