What do we mean by impact and impact-orientation?

Here we are going to use the term “impact-oriented approach” which has been the result of theoretical and practical approaches. This approach is also used by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation (BMZ) and

In literature, you may find also other similar approaches or terms, such as “results-based-management” or “results-oriented approach”.

What do we mean by impact?

As already mentioned, there are many different definitions of ‘impact’ (see the discussion in Hearn and Buffardi 2016).

Here, we will define impact as per the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD):

‘Positive and negative, primary and secondary long-term effects produced by a development intervention, directly or indirectly, intended or unintended’

(OECD-DAC 2010)

We use the term impact to refer to

“long-term results regarding well-being of people and planet, or social or societal change as the ultimate results at the end of a causal chain”.

Impact is distinct from ‘outputs’ – which are the direct products resulting from the implementation of intervention activities – and from ‘outcomes’ – which are the intermediate-term changes in the target group(s) who have been engaged in the intervention and which precede, and are usually a pre-condition for, impact to occur.


(Social) Impact orientation indicates that a project is planned and implemented with the aim of achieving defined outcomes and impact. Desired changes are formulated as concrete objectives that serve to orient and guide the overall work.

(Posted on February 10, 2017 by Florian Hinze, Phineo)

The United Nations provide the following definitions (UN, 2011, p. 7):


Results are changes in a state or condition that derive from a cause-and-effect relationship. There are three types of such changes – outputs, outcomes and impact – that can be set in motion by a development intervention. The changes can be intended or unintended, positive and/ or negative. 

Results chain 

The causal sequence for a development intervention that stipulates the necessary sequence to achieve desired results – beginning with inputs, moving through activities and outputs, and culminating in individual outcomes and those that influence outcomes for the community, goal/impacts and feedback. It is based on a theory of change, including underlying assumptions. 


A specific end result desired or expected to occur as a consequence, at least in part, of an intervention or activity. It is the higher order objective that will assure national capacity building to which a development intervention is intended to contribute. 


Outcomes represent changes in the institutional and behavioral capacities for development conditions that occur between the completion of outputs and the achievement of goals. 


Outputs are changes in skills or abilities and capacities of individuals or institutions, or the availability of new products and services that result from the completion of activities within a development intervention within the control of the organization. They are achieved with the resources provided and within the time period specified.

Levels of change at a glance

Here you can see at a glance the different levels of change and how these relate to impact, outcome, output and the process.


Muckenhirn, Rita. 2011. Alistando la mochila para el camino hacia la visión . La Cuculmeca. 1a edición. Jinotega. Nicaragua. 72 p.

Peersman, Greet; Rogers, Patricia; Guijt, Irene ; Hearn, Simon; Pasanen, Tiina;. Buffardi, Anne L. March 2016. When and how to develop an impact-oriented monitoring and evaluation system. Methods Lab publication; odi.org/methodslab

United Nations Development Group. October 2011. Results-Based Management Handbook.