We use the word outcomes to refer to the impact that the human services agency has on the life chances of each person it serves.
Human service agencies become involved in a person's life because the person is experiencing increased vulnerability. This might be due to disabling circumstances, health issues, poverty, etc. Such circumstances will likely mean that the person does not have access to the same life chances of people, or that those life chances are at risk.
From this, it follows that the goal of the agency's involvement is to uphold or advance that person's life chances.
While this may seem straightforward, it appeared to be the case that many human service agencies struggle to accomplish this. Part of the reason for this is that services are often purchased or arranged in ways that focus less on outcomes and more on the minimisation of perceived risk.
As a result, and usually with the best of intentions, services can often hold people in place, focusing on the avoidance of deterioration or risk as opposed to focusing on advancing the person's life chances.
In these services, outcomes are not easily measured, because the focus of measurement is on outputs (for example the number hours of support, the number of day places, the number of beds occupied), processes (for example the presence of a planning mechanism, protocols for handling complaints, financial management arrangements) and inputs (for example the qualifications of staff, or the availability of special transport).
It is not so much that these types of measures are pointless, but if they take place in the absence of true outcome measures, or if they have no obvious connection with the outcome measures, then the energy and focus of the organisation are at risk of dilution.
In contemplating outcomes, our focus is drawn to the extent to which the human service agency is able to lift the person into roles and activities that give that person valued membership in community life. This is accomplished through being a broker or advocate (but not the direct provider) of such roles, and/or by assisting the person to build capacity towards such roles.
When a human services agency is genuinely focused on such outcomes, that agency has a better chance of being truly helpful to the person.
This approach is reflected in the Model of Citizenhood Support.