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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > R > Results Chain

Results Chain 

The causal or logical relationship linking activities and outputs with the outcomes of a given policy, program or initiative that they are intended to produce. Usually displayed as a flow chart.

(Treasury Board Secretariat)


The example below is provided by John Mayne in his article in Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation.

"Government programs undertake a number of activities that produce a variety of results. Programs deliver two kinds of results: outputs, the direct products and services produced by government activities, such as an unemployment cheque or some requested information; and outcomes, the consequences (both intended and not) of those outputs on Canadians and our society. Outputs are results that managers can largely control, while the outcomes that managers are trying to accomplish are influenced by factors outside their programs.

The final or ultimate results sought, such as general improvement in the well-being of Canadians, the economy, or the environment, are end outcomes (sometimes called long-term, final, or ultimate outcomes). Between the outputs and the end outcomes, there is a sequence of immediate and intermediate outcomes that are expected to lead to a desired result but are not ends in themselves, such as changes in the actions of program clients. Immediate outcomes are more easily linked to the activities of a program than are end outcomes. A results chain (see figure) shows this logical sequence of outputs and outcomes that occurs as a result of a program’s activities.

Figure: A Results Chain


Articulating with some clarity what results a program is intended to accomplish is critical to good results management and reporting. A wide range of terms are used to describe these normative statements: objectives, goals, strategic outcomes, expected results, planned results, targets, and expectations, to name a few. Among these, it is essential to distinguish between general statements that set the direction of the overall intent of the program and more concrete statements specifying what is to be accomplished over a time period.

Both types of statements of intentions are needed. The first type (objectives) sets out, at a high level, the general direction and end state sought, but it often does not specify the extent of results sought or the time frame to accomplish them. Objectives are usually set out in legislation or by governments as statements of general policy intent. Objectives link to the mission, vision, and policy goals of an organization and set the stage for the second set of statements, the more concrete performance expectations. Performance expectations define the specific results expected, the extent (how much is expected), and the timeframe. Specific expectations are sometimes set out in legislation but often not. Rather, it is left to the public sector managers to implement, with the approval of ministers, the intent of the objectives set by governments and/or legislatures. Good performance expectations allow one to know and determine if what has been set out to be accomplished has been achieved. Having clear statements that specify what is expected is essential to performance information. Without them, all one has is results information."

Quotation drawn from: Mayne, 2002, pp. 32-34


Mayne, J. (2004). “Reporting on Outcomes: Setting Performance Expectations and Telling Performance Stories”. Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 19 (1), pp. 31-60.

Treasury Board Secretariat. Managing for Results Self-Assessment Tool: Key Terms and Definitions.


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© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance