Diagnosing Language Usage:

It is possible to use the Results-Based Accountability framework to diagnose language usage problems in the work of groups or planning processes. The technique is straightforward, but takes a bit of time. Here’s how you do it:

TECHNIQUE: The following three steps process allows you to diagnose language usage from a plan document. When the technique is familiar it can also be used by listening for language usage.

Step 1. Take the documents the group has produced, and work with them in order of importance. You may not have to analyze more than one or two to complete a useful version of this analysis.

Step 2. As you read the document, keep a side page for notes. Organize the columns as follows.

Column 1: Document word or word combination you find in the text.
Column 2: Actual language content: associated with or labeled by the word
(optional page paragraph citation).
Column 3: Corresponding framework word used to label that content.

Step 3 Summarize your findings in chart like the one that follows. The contents in this table are taken from an actual plan.

Analysis of Language Usage in the County’s Children’s Plan

Document Word Actual Language Content
labeled by the word
Framework Word
used to label that content


Program level indicator

“healthy children” (page 2)healthy and safe environment”Increase in % born healthy
reduce number of preventable deaths (pp. 24 – 26)

resources to support families with special needs

low-birthweight (page 8)

reduce low birthweight to no more than 5% of live births

the child care staffing ratio will not exceed 5 to 1 (page 12)

OutcomeOutcomeOutcome , percentage increase

Indicator (lay definition), percentage increase

Indicator (lay definition)

Indicator (technical definition) plus Target

Performance measure plus Target

A quick look at this chart reveals the following problems:

  • Two different words, “domain and outcome,” describe the idea of “outcome.”
  • The word “outcome” is used to describe four different ideas (“outcome, percentage increase in outcome, percentage increase in an indicator, and strategy”).
  • Two different words, ‘category and indicator,” are used to describe the idea of “indicator.”
  • The words “indicator and program level indicator” combine indicator data statement with a target level.
  • more terms are used than are necessary.

Here is a simplified version which makes the relationships somewhat easier to see.

RBA Language

RBA Language

This simplified chart shows:

  • Domain exactly equals outcome
  • Outcome is used to mean three different things (outcome, indicator and strategy)
  • Category and indicator are both used to mean indicator
  • Program level indicator exactly equals performance measure

The problems are obvious. The duplication and inconsistency in this language usage are almost certain to interfere with communication between partners and undermine the clarity and effectiveness of the work.

MarcDiagnosing Language Usage