Working from Outcomes to Create Strategy

Identify Outcomes

The Challenge with big, complex issues such as how to create Mentally Healthy Campuses is that they seem so big and overwhelming that it seems impossible to figure out where you could make a difference. It’s easier to just put your head down and do what you know, than to take a big strategy approach.

Taking a step back and thinking about what you’re actually trying to achieve – called outcomes, and about the many ways you can make a difference (whether you call those strategies or tactics) can help to identify what you can do and what you can help others do.

The other advantage to working from outcomes is that you have an easier path to understanding what and how you want to evaluate when your funder is pressing to understand actual impact and not just activities.

You need outcomes to leave a legacy. Simply having a lot of activity or events, focusing on what you’re doing, is not a way to leave a lasting impact.  It helps to dream about what actual change you want to see on your campus – dreams lead to pragmatic outcomes your campus needs, so you can build a strategy to get you there.

The key is to understand what outcomes you want to leave as your legacy. That can be a personal legacy, though it’s hard to see the outcomes of short-term initiatives that a Student Leader can manage within one term.  Or it can be the legacy for which the Student Association is known for having patiently built over time.  If this is what you and your Student Association want to aim for, you’ll need to pay close attention to transitions from one Student Leader to another so the gains in one term are leveraged in the next.

The Mentally Healthy Campus Maturity Model helps you identify possible outcomes

One way to consider the range of options you could focus on is to use the Maturity Model quadrants as a framework.


Outcomes are changes in skills, attitudes, behaviours, or in state. Do you want a legacy of individual outcomes – in students and other members of your campus community? And are those outcomes mostly oriented to helping students build their capacities for wellness and life assets – or mostly oriented to helping students help others or help students be comfortable with seeking help when they need it.

You may want to leave a legacy of improvements in the physical, social or digital environments of the campus?  These are influencers of student mental health and so these outcomes are important.

Do you want a legacy of the Student Association with the organizational strengths to move forward? Or are you more interested in a legacy of momentum – where the student association is an active member of a group that finds more ways to work together and learn how to leverage each other’s strengths?

These need not be either/or choices but you have limited resources and will be able to make the most of them if you understand your priorities.

Following are some examples of outcomes that might give you some ideas.  Note that these are examples, not prescriptions – use them as prompts to help you think about the outcomes that you want.

Following the Maturity Model Quadrants from upper left and moving counter-clockwise:

 Outcomes in Individual Persons (Upper Left)  – e.g.

  • Students (or faculty members, staff members, administrators) know what activities work for themselves in managing stresses in their lives and in their academic lives, and routinely practice those activities;
  • Students have positive mental wellness;
  • Students are confident and comfortable seeking help when they need it;
  • Students know where and when they can access professional help on campus or in the community;
  • Students feel safe from violence;
  • You can specify additional characteristics of an outcome.  For example:
    • All individual outcomes are balanced across the campus – e.g. expressed as a % of the total student body, no systemic gaps (i.e. no substantial differences across gender, abilities, ethnic or religious, age, program or location).
    • For example a sub-outcome for a particular year might be “Increased proportion of students in apprenticeship programs know at least 3 ways that work for them to manage stresses in their academic, work and personal lives.”

Collective outcomes (Lower Left) – e.g.

  • Students (and faculty members, staff members, administrators) consider the social norms of our campus to be:
    • More inclusive than Stigmatizing
    • More Stigmatizing than inclusive;
  • Students are comfortable having conversations about mental wellness and mental illness challenges where others can hear;
  • The campus has healing and inclusive-enabling physical environments, including:
    • Natural landscapes;
    • Adequate lighting in parking areas;
    • Gender neutral and accessible bathrooms;
    • Quiet spaces for students (noise is a stressor that affects some people more than others).

 Organizational outcomes (Upper Right) – e.g.

  • Your organization has resources, structures and responsibility assignments that support quality student-led initiatives for mental health (this can be any part of a larger organization, and the Student Association is considered an organization);
  • The Student Association is a mentally healthy workplace;
  • The Institution policies and organization support quality holistic initiatives for mental wellness, mental illness and issues, and is a mentally healthy workplace;

Working Relationships, Organizational Ecology outcomes (Lower Right) – e.g.

  • Student- led initiatives are an important part of the campus’ overall strategy for mental wellness, mental illness and issues, and stigma/inclusive social norms;
  • Partner collaborations for mental health from year to year have greater and more nuanced outcomes – each partner’s initiatives consistently reinforce impacts of other partners’ initiatives;
  • Partner collaborations for mental health from year to year show increasing strength of relationships over time and are increasingly self-reinforcing (momentum is increasing).

Note these examples use the Maturity Model Quadrants as a framework for outcomes.  Note the difference between outcomes and the dimensions of the Maturity Model that are described in the Maturity Model – Detailed and Advanced levels.  Outcomes are the WHAT is achieved. The Maturity Model dimensions are your capability to make change – the interventions, organizational processes and structures, and partnerships.

Getting to Outcomes from actions

You may not be clear about the outcomes you want to achieve.If that’s the case, start with where you’re at – what actions do you want to take, and then unpack your thinking.
For example, say you don’t know the outcome, but you really think that you need to create some kind of information resource – perhaps a booklet on understanding mental wellness, or to put up bathroom posters telling people what kinds of services and resources are available and where they can go to access them.

Ask yourself a question like “Why do I think that will be useful to do?” And when you have an answer, ask “Why do I think that will be valuable or helpful?” Repeat that at least 5 more times.(This is known as the Five Why’s method). At each step, you’ll end up with one piece of the chain of outcomes that you expect to result from your actions.

Write out the chain of expected outcomes on a flip chart with arrows between each stage. It helps to see those outside yourself – then you can ask someone else if your expected chain of events seems reasonable.

You can then ask yourself if your idea for a booklet is really the best way to achieve the outcomes you want.Is there another way, that will reach more students, or be more effective at getting them to actually feel comfortable reaching out for help? Will it be helpful for ALL students? In ALL programs? Or just for some? Is there someone else who’s developed a booklet or information online and what we need to do is make sure it gets to all the students?
Brainstorm with your colleagues about what other tactics might work better and be more fun.

Evaluating and Learning

One of the advantages of starting with outcomes is that you have a better foundation for developing your evaluation and learning activities to report on the outcomes you’ve achieved.And, since you may have many initiatives that are focused on the same outcome(s), you have fewer outcome measures to develop since you can use the same outcome measures and monitoring instruments for more than one initiative!