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2000 December Report of the Auditor General of Canada

December 2000 Report—Chapter 19

Appendix B—Setting Outcome Expectations

Clear performance expectations allow a reader to understand the result that is desired. Concrete performance expectations indicate not only the direction sought but also "how much" of the result is sought. Without this indication of "how much", the reader has no way of assessing whether the accomplishments reported are adequate, show progress, or meet expectations.

Making expectations concrete does not necessarily mean expressing them as numerical targets. Many performance expectations can and should be expressed in this way. But there is a danger that emphasizing only numerical or quantitative targets may limit the stated expectations - and hence reporting - to what can readily be quantified. More important, results could be neglected or their achievement undermined by focussing on results that are less important but easier to measure.

In addition to numerical targets, concrete performance expectations may be expressed as:

  • a numerical range rather than a specific amount;
  • the existence or lack of a result (0-1 variable);
  • a defined scale of accomplishments, such as "good", "fair" and "poor"; and
  • a significant contribution to a result, where "significant" has been defined.

There is a "results chain" of outputs, intermediate outcomes and end outcomes that describe a program. This chain is what is expected to occur, and departments ought to be able to specify in measurable terms the magnitude and timing of at least some of these results. With this in mind, concrete expectations can mean that at least some of the specific results in the chain are measurable. Clear expectations would then include the clarity of the logic behind the linkages between different levels of results.

We can then look for a clear and concrete chain of results rather than of necessarily only discrete expected results.