Soft outcomes and distance travelled

Why soft outcomes and distance travelled?

Soft outcomes and distance travelled, and the use of systems designed to capture information on them, should be an integral part of your project because:

  • They give a truer and more rounded picture of the real success of the project as a whole and can demonstrate this to funders or potential funders
  • They give a better picture of clients’ progress in terms of increased employability
  • Many target groups face multiple barriers and are a long way from being able to secure a job or start mainstream education or training – it is important to be able to measure the progress of these clients
  • employers value ‘soft skills’ including attitudes, personal attributes and interpersonal skills, and ways of demonstrating achievement in these areas can be an advantage to clients
  • demonstrating to clients their progress and distance travelled can itself boost their confidence, and the process of working with them to measure and monitor achievements can also be empowering.
  • Soft outcomes can provide a further indicator as to the additionality of the intervention, ie positive results that may not have occurred in the absence of the activity in question.

 

Soft outcomes – what are they?

Soft outcomes are outcomes from training, support or guidance interventions which, unlike hard outcomes, such as qualifications and jobs, cannot be measured directly or tangibly. Soft outcomes may include achievements relating to:

  • interpersonal skills, eg social skills
  • organisational skills, such as: personal organisation, and the ability to plan and prioritise
  • analytical skills, such as: the ability to exercise judgement, managing time or problem solving, and
  • personal skills, eg motivation, confidence, reliability and health awareness.

Soft indicators

Indicators are the means by which we can measure whether the outcomes have been achieved. The term soft indicators therefore can be used when referring to the achievements which may ‘indicate’ acquisition or progress towards an outcome. A project may wish, for example, to explore whether an individual’s motivation has increased over the length of the project. However, this is, to all intents and purposes, a subjective judgement, indicators (or measures) such as improved levels of attendance, improved time keeping and improved communication skills, can suggest strongly that motivation has increased. Not all indicators will be suitable for all target groups, and some will be target group specific.

Distance travelled

The term distance travelled refers to the progress that a beneficiary makes towards employability or harder outcomes, as a result of the project intervention. The acquisition of certain soft outcomes may seem insignificant, but for certain individuals the leap forward in achieving these outcomes is immense. A consideration of distance travelled is very important in contextualising beneficiaries’ achievements.

Examples of soft outcomes

Table 1: Examples of ‘core’ soft outcomes and indicators

Types of ‘soft’ outcomes Examples of indicators
Key work skills The acquisition of key skills eg team working, problem solving, numeracy skills, ICT and digital media skillsThe acquisition of language and communication skillsCompletion of work placements/ tasks

Lower rates of sickness related absence

Observing rules and behaviours

Attitudinal skills Increased levels of motivationIncreased levels of confidenceRecognition of prior skills

Increased feelings of responsibility

Increased levels of self-esteem

Higher personal and career aspirations

Showing initiative

Personal skills Improved personal appearance/ presentabilityImproved levels of attendanceImproved timekeeping

Improved personal hygiene

Greater levels of self-awareness

Better health and fitness

Greater levels of concentration and/or engagement

Willingness to learn new things

Practical skills Ability to complete formsAbility to write a CVImproved ability to manage money

Improved awareness of rights and responsibilities

Interpersonal skills Social skills such as positive social networks, community participation, cultural integration

How to Measure Soft Outcomes

Methods

Methods to measure soft outcomes and distance travelled are numerous and what may work well for one project may not work for another. The system that you choose, and how you implement, will depend very much on the activities and objectives of your project, your target group, the length of the project, and the resources you have at your disposal. The options we provide here represent some of the methods you may wish to consider when designing a soft outcome monitoring system for your project. Selecting and implementing a range of methods to collect data on soft outcomes is more likely to capture a full picture of clients’ progress.

Establishing a baseline

It is crucial to establish a baseline of soft skills, aptitudes and attitudes from which individual progress can be measured. This can normally be done during the initial assessment phase when clients’ needs are established, barriers to employability identified and personal development targets are set. An examination of ‘soft’ skill needs falls naturally from this phase of the project.

It is much better to do this on an individual basis with learners if at all possible.  If you simply give out a questionnaire in the first session of a course people are likely to answer the questions to make themselves look better which risks invalidating your data later on.

Collection methods

Type of collection method Comments and issues to consider
Individual action planning, personal action planning and goal setting The drawing up of individual action plans is normally carried out during the initial assessment session and then reviewed at regular intervals to gauge whether goals have been met. An action plan can include personal objectives, priorities and reflections on progress.
Reviews between trainers/assessors and clients to record soft
outcomes
Improvements over time can be noted and recorded during regular formal or informal reviews. This system is largely reliant on a sound judgement from the client or project worker and will not provide an absolute or formal measure of distance travelled.
Baseline information is particularly useful here as data can be compared over time.
Daily diary or personal journal Clients can be encouraged to write about progress towards soft outcomes. Issues of confidentiality should be considered.
In-depth reflection during or after the course Beneficiaries could be asked to consider and review their progress as they come to the end of their training course, or a particular element of the project (such as a work placement). This could be incorporated as an assignment that could be included in a beneficiary’s portfolio of evidence of achievement. Alternatively you could consider using a social media platform to encourage learners to reflect on a daily or weekly basis. You could hold a focus group or interview individual members of the group.
Recorded observations of group or individual activities It is important to have comprehensive documentation systems that will allow for the recording of anecdotal evidence of outcomes achieved and progress made.
This method requires a high level of observer skill, and there is the danger of observer bias, and also that the observer will influence the behaviour being observed.
Presentation of material in a portfolio This could include evidence of tasks completed successfully indicating achievement of outcomes, or progress towards them. An evidence based portfolio would be a concrete output that could be presented to an employer.

Adapted from: The Institute for employment studies (2000) Guide to measuring soft outcomes and distance travelled, DfEE