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Measuring the difference projects make

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Projects we fund set out to make a difference. Measuring outcomes and impact helps us to understand the difference that projects make. It can also help us learn from and improve what we do.

We can use theories of change to help us measure impact. These look at what projects will change, how and why.


Outcomes are the changes your project makes to address need. They are the result of what you do, rather than the activities or services your project provides. For people, this might be things like improved health, new skills, more confidence or getting a job.

You can find out more about outcomes in our guidance for applicants


There are lots of different definitions of ‘impact’. Our working definition is:

"any effects arising from an intervention. It can include short-term outcomes as well as broader, long-term effects. Impacts can also be positive and negative and planned or unforeseen."

Monitoring and information data, cases studies and feedback from beneficiaries and project stakeholders all feed into impact measurement.

So an important point about our approach to impact is that it covers a wide range of areas. We've made a start on thinking about different types of impact arising from our own work in Learning about our impact.

Promoting outcome and impact measurement

Lots of our research at Big Lottery Fund revolves around impact measurement. In fact, we’ve been promoting impact measurement for years. Some of the ways we do this are:

  • taking an outcomes approach to funding
  • encouraging applicants to include monitoring and evaluation costs in their project budgets
  • providing advice and resources for self-evaluation
  • gathering, writing and publishing project case studies.

We have also funded initiatives to help projects establish a baseline and measure change.

Our Supporting Change and Impact Fund aimed to help grant-holders think about sustainability. It found that many grant-holders chose to spend their money on evaluation. Sometimes this was to the cost of giving enough attention to business planning.

To support grant-holders we are:

  • encouraging applicants to most of our programmes to budget for evaluation when they apply to us
  • thinking about how we can support grant-holders to measure the impact of their organisations as a whole
  • promoting tried and tested tools for this with our Inspiring Impact Initiative
  • encouraging grant-holders to use full cost recovery to set funds aside for organisational impact measurement and strategic planning.

Sharing findings and social media

Sharing findings from your impact measurement can help demonstrate the benefit your work brings. Social media can be a great way to keep people up to date with your work. You just need to make sure you make the best use of the tools available. Some things to thing about include:

  • what you want people to know about your project
  • what you want people to do
  • posting messages specific to the audience you are trying to reach.

You’ll find some useful information about measuring the impact of your communications and an introduction to blogging under Publications. Our guide to social media is aimed specifically at well-being projects but can be applied more widely. It can help you make the most of Facebook and Twitter. All this can help raise awareness of your project.

More information about impact

More about our research

In 2010 we commissioned Community Evaluation Northern Ireland to support grant-holders with measuring outcomes. They helped Live and Learn and Safe and Well projects to set up new processes for establishing a baseline and measuring change.


Measuring Change: A shared measurement approach report
Measuring the impact of communication activity
Introduction to blogging
Social media guide
Using social media outlets

Supporting Change and Impact evaluation