Two Experiments with Outcomes Frameworks

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland, published between 1791 and 1799, marked the first use of the word statistics in the English language. It also launched the first national measurement system for “ascertaining the quantum of happiness enjoyed by its inhabitants, and the means of its future improvement.” Few today would disagree that better measurement of societal outcomes can drive a more enlightened approach to statecraft. Governments are increasingly reorientating policy around well-being outcomes rather than indicators of economic growth. Public officials and social investors are more frequently conditioning funding on outcomes achieved rather than services delivered. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—17 commitments for a more peaceful, sustainable, and prosperous planet that UN member nations accepted in 2015—also use outcomes to advance and coordinate the worldwide response. Despite such growth and intensive research, outcomes-based approaches to governance and social reform are poorly understood, and empirical evidence for their effectiveness remains disappointing. Where did Sinclair’s vision for social accounting go wrong? Two significant experiments with outcomes-based approaches, emerging more than 200 years after Sinclair’s innovation, may hold the answer.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Specialist publicationStanford Social Innovation Review
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


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