Promoting an evidence based approach to humanitarian action at the World Humanitarian Summit

Framing Organisational Effectiveness: The IRC’s Approach to Outcomes and Evidence

For the next in our series of blogs on evidence in humanitarian action, Rachel Ingersoll, Policy & Communications Officer at the IRC explores the IRC approach to outcomes and evidence.

In the previous blog, ALNAP highlighted the difficulty of meeting the U.N. Secretary-General’s World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) core commitments without evidence to design and deliver humanitarian assistance. We know that evidence never stands alone, and should always be clear in its purpose—evidence of what, by who, to what standard, and for what end? For the humanitarian community, evidence must be used to achieve the end results. But where do we look for the evidence? And how can people who make decisions about programs have ready access that best helps them use it?

The Case for Outcomes and Evidence in Humanitarian Programming

The humanitarian sector is suffering from the absence of specifically defined collective goals to both guide programs and investments, and measure progress and performance against those goals. Currently, we measure what we deliver, but not the actual improvement in peoples’ lives that we ultimately aim to accomplish. While donors, agencies, and response actors maintain ways to account for their interventions—whether it’s the number of latrines built, undernourished children that received Plumpy’Nut, or boxes of non-food items delivered to people following an earthquake—they fail to capture the ultimate goals of such outputs—that people are protected from water-, sanitation-, and hygiene-related diseases; children are protected from and treated for malnutrition; and people are able to meet their basic needs—as the focus of decision making.

Beyond defining ultimate goals, or outcomes, lies the practical question of achieving them. What are the best interventions to make progress towards these outcomes? How do we know what does and does not work in a given context? At present, decisions about outcomes and evidence vary widely and many are in response to individual donor preferences. To meet the aims outlined in the WHS, we must strengthen the deliberate use of, and mechanisms to disseminate, evidence for designing programs aimed to achieve specific, measurable outcomes.

Implementing High-Impact, Cost Effective Programs—The IRC’s Journey

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has developed a comprehensive approach called the Outcomes and Evidence Framework to support the design of high-impact, cost effective programs that are centered on outcomes and strongly grounded in evidence.

The Outcomes and Evidence Framework is a set of tools that standardizes outcomes and maintains a centrally curated evidence bank. The framework has 26 common outcomes within the areas of health, economic wellbeing, safety, education, and power. For the IRC, realizing these outcomes equally for women, men, girls, and boys remains critical for the achievement of our organizational strategy; as such, the theories of change integrate the necessary conditions for reducing the gender gap in each of the 26 outcomes. Each outcome has the following interrelated elements:

  • A theory of change accompanied by narratives that describe in detail each pathway within a theory of change. The IRC’s theories of change were designed based on a broad range of input from IRC colleagues in headquarters and the field, including technical specialists.
  • A set of core indicators—closely related to the theories of change—to measure the outcomes, with guidance notes to explain use of the core indicators to calculate the progress in the outcomes over time.
  • Evidence summaries that synthesize what is known about how to best achieve a specific outcome in a given context, and Evidence Maps that organize and visually present the best available research evidence at every step of the theory of change to best determine what interventions do and do not work in each outcome area.

All these elements are meant to support practitioners to choose measurable outcomes and design interventions based on a clear theory of change and the best available evidence.

In the coming months, the IRC is excited to share the Outcomes and Evidence Framework with other practitioners and the broader humanitarian community though a user-friendly electronic platform. This platform will present the framework tools together in an intuitive, easy-to-access application for practitioners to apply in their programming and proposals and share their learning/expertise; for donors to inform program planning and contribute to it as a sector knowledge tool; and for organizations to reference in joint coordination when planning for common objectives.

The platform will go live at the end of May in beta format. We hope you will use it and provide feedback on how we can make it more useful for designing programs and strategy—better for your work—as the IRC looks to launch an improved version in September.


Practitioners can access the IRC’s Evidence Maps and a quick reference document for using the maps via the links provided below:


Quick-reference document for using the maps

Education Map

Health Map

Power Map

Service Delivery Map

Safety Map

Cash Transfer Map

Economic Wellbeing Map

Humanitarian Emergencies Map

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