The Power of Cake

Published March 28, 2017 by monika


When I run impact assessment training, it becomes apparent again and again that people do not understand the difference between outputs and outcomes.


It happens so frequently that I have stopped assuming people do know, and now build the definition into the beginning of the training.


Impact assessment is all about outcome. So if you don’t know which is which, you’re going to struggle to understand what difference you’re making.


If I asked you to write down a list of the impact your project has made for example, and you write down a list of outputs, then you’ll be focussing on the wrong thing, which means you won’t be able to improve.


During one recent training session, someone complained;

This gets explained to me so often, and I just can’t remember.”


Perhaps cake will help.


You make a cake – picture it – springy, soft sponge, butter icing in a pretty pattern – are you licking your lips yet? That cake is your output.


The cake now sits on your kitchen table. It looks beautiful, it smells delicious. But unless there are people to enjoy the cake, the output is meaningless. It can in fact sit and go stale, attract mice, or go mouldy.


The outcome is the happy people delighted that they can eat a slice of cake.

Output = cake

Outcome = happy people


So if you write a list of the positive impact your project has had, for funders, stakeholders, a report of any kind, check to see if it looks like cake:

We ran a workshop for 15 people.”

That’s cake.

We printed 1000 posters.”

That’s cake.

We held a launch party.”

That’s cake.


15 people attended our workshop and changed behaviour / learned something new.”

That’s happy people.

1000 posters gave the young people a tangible piece of art that they can show at interviews.”

That’s happy people.

Our launch party increased sales by 50%”

That’s happy people.


The existence of the cake is not your impact. What happens next is the important part.