A Logic Model of Performance Inputs, Outputs and Outcomes

Increasingly, the courts' stakeholders -- justice system partners, the general public, litigants, jurors, witnesses, and even the courts’ own court employees -- demand clear evidence that the resources courts expend actually produce benefits for people. Looking for this evidence starts early in the development of a court performance measurement system (CPMS) (see Step 2, Identifying and Defining the Performance Measures Needed and Desired to Help Achieve Goals, October 15, 2005 posting, “Six-Step Process for Building an Effective Court Performance Measurement System”).

For every strategic initiative, program or specific strategy, court managers should develop a simple logic model that describes how the initiative, program or strategy theoretically works to achieve the desired results from program inputs through end outcomes. Critical thinking and discussion of the logic of how a proposed program or strategy may bring about results that benefit citizens and the community can reap great benefits for the design, implementation and evaluation of that program or strategy. Just by focusing on desired results -- how citizens may be better off as a result of the program and why -- gives court leaders and managers a better picture of the purpose and likely accomplishments of the program (see September 28, 2005, posting, “A Preference for Outcome Measures”). A useful logic model -- an abstract simplification of what impact the program is likely to produce -- includes four elements – inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes.

Inputs

Inputs are the physical, financial and human resources allocated to or consumed by a particular court program or strategy. Examples include staff, time, money, equipment, facilities, supplies, software and written materials. Inputs also include caseload, workload and constraints on a program or strategy, such as laws, regulations and requirements. A program or strategy uses inputs to support activities. Common input measures are the number of case filings and percent increase or decrease in filings.

Activities

Activities are what the program or strategy does with the inputs provided. Activities include the tasks, steps, methods, techniques and operations performed. Examples include trials, intake hearings, settlement conferences, mediation sessions, data processing, probation counseling, public education, and assistance given to pro se litigants. Activities result in outputs.

Outputs

Outputs are the elements of operation or level of effort, the tangible products or services resulting from the implementation of the programs and strategies such as number of cases heard, hearings held, sessions conducted, pro se litigants assisted, and money collected. The outputs of programs and strategies should produce the desired outcomes for participants in the programs and the recipients of services. The number of staff recruited or trained and the amount of equipment purchased are internal operations intended to improve the quality or quantity of inputs. They typically are not considered to be outputs.

Outcomes

Outcomes are the benefits or changes for participants in programs or recipients of services during or after the program or strategy is implemented. Outcomes may relate to knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, behavior, condition or status of the participants or recipients. They are what participants know, think, or can do and, in the long-term, what their condition or status is following the program or strategy. Examples include litigants' satisfaction with the court's courtesy and responsiveness, success of probation, time to case disposition, clarity of orders, the integrity of case files, percent of mediation agreements, enforcement of orders, and perceived fairness of proceedings, as well as percent of expected expenditures and percent of revenues received.

Most court performance measures, including caseloads and workloads, are measures of output, not outcomes. However, the public and their representatives are reluctant to allocate resources solely based on measures of needs or analysis of inputs (the resources that a court may use to produce its services and programs) and outputs (the service effort or work done). Instead, they demand accountability for results and outcomes that make a difference to the well being of individuals, groups and communities.

The logic model assumes that a court has measurable physical, financial and human resources (inputs) that allow it to operate in a discernable way (activities), and more or less as intended (outputs), to produce demonstrable changes in the well-being of individuals, groups and communities (outcomes). Use of this model avoids a common pitfall in performance measurement – mistaking inputs and outputs for outcomes. For example, the number of mediators employed in a court mediation program and the number of mediation sessions held are not outcomes. They are, respectively, inputs and outputs of a mediation program. They are of great interest to those who “run” the courts but are of less concern to those who are served by the courts – citizens, taxpayers, litigants, legislators, and executive agencies. Understandably, those who run court programs may be most interested in whether a program has been implemented and is working as intended. Those served by the program, in contrast, are far more interested in outcomes -- for example, whether the mediation program promotes more fairness, reduces costs, is successful in reaching agreements among the parties, and provides greater satisfaction to the parties in a dispute relative to litigation without mediation.

A helpful distinction between inputs and outputs, on the one hand, and outcomes, on the other, is made by the United Way of America. Input and outputs are about the programs, whereas outcomes are about the participants in those programs. Merely participating in a court hearing or a court program does not represent an outcome. An outcome is something the people served by the court are, have, or do as a result of court service or program provided.

Two references -- Harry Hatry’s Performance Measurement: Getting Results (Urban Institute Press, 1999) and the United Way’s Measuring Program Outcomes: A Practical Approach (United Way, 1996), along with its companion, Measuring Program Outcomes: Training Kit (United Way, 1996) -- are especially helpful guides for using the logic model. Hatry, for example, recommends preparation of “outcome-sequence charts,” a visual depiction of the relationships among inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes represented by series of boxes.

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