Impact Practice is on the Rise
It’s fair to say that there has been a growing interest in the topic of social impact measurement over the last five years. Government, grant funders and social investors are all beginning to use the language, testing new approaches and now placing the burden of expectation on social enterprises to measure their impact. Funding and other support is tied to measuring success well.
This has led to a mixture of fear, curiosity and confusion for those having to measure the impact.
Social impact measurement really doesn’t have to be complicated. It is only as difficult as you choose to make it.
So, What is Social Impact Measurement?
At its core, social impact measurement is showing that your enterprise delivers well, creates impacts (social, economic and environmental), creates value for the people you are accountable to, and lives up to desired goals and practices.
There is no silver bullet or no-cost solution to measuring and communicating social impact – certainly no single manual or process that you should be taking off the shelf.
However, experience tells us that with just a little time and effort even the smallest of organizations can improve their practice.
The Building Blocks of Better Impact Practice
I like to call it ‘impact practice’ rather than social impact measurement.
By impact practice I mean all of the things that your organization can do to plan, measure, communicate and grow their social impact.
If we break this down, there are 10 basic building blocks to better impact practice.
1. Establish your mission
All social enterprises are on a mission to change society for the better. Being able to tell others about your cause and why it matters will push your work forward, lead you to success and help you measure it. It’s therefore vital to find your north star and guide the way for others around you.
2. Define your business model
Social enterprises take a business approach to achieving their mission and making a difference. To achieve a lasting impact that you can measure, you need to find a business model that is right for you. You therefore need to take time to find the sweet spot between delivering on your mission and making enough money to remain afloat as a business.
3. Identify your value Proposition
A value proposition is a set of statements that describe the things that make your work distinctive, successful and uniquely valuable to others. It explains how you do business more responsibly than your competitors, why you are the best choice for your customers, and how your work solves social problems in a financially sustainable way. If you are struggling to explain the value you bring to others then start to nail down your value prop.
4. Develop a results framework
To measure your social impact, you must work out how and why your work brings about change. This is called your ‘theory of change’. Using your theory of change, you can identify the relationships between your strategies, your performance and your results. So think about ways that you can develop a simple ‘logic model’ to navigate your course and chart the distance you have travelled.
5. Use performance measures
Performance measures help you assess how well you are working to make the changes you want to bring about. You need a good set of performance measures to plan how you will achieve your goals and show the changes you have made in a way that others can grasp. So take some time to find the right measures to ensure you are going in the right direction and measuring the distance travelled.
6. Collect useful information
To convince others that you are making progress and achieving the things you hoped for, you need to collect the right information. This means deciding what information to collect and how to collect it in a regular and consistent way. So find methods that work for you and focus on using them well.
7. Gauge performance and impact
Organizations need to be able to assemble and analyse data in a way that stands up to scrutiny. This allows you to gain useful insights, assess your performance, and work out whether you have achieved your intended outcomes. So, to avoid drowning in a sea of numbers, review your evidence regularly and as a team.
8. Report on results
You should use the information you have collected to produce a full and balanced account of your work and the difference it makes. How you report this evidence is important for showing your organization is trustworthy and accountable. So don’t get weighed down in the same dull reports; communicate achievements creatively, clearly and persuasively.
9. Communicate with impact
Many social enterprises have useful and compelling evidence but fail to tell others about it in an effective way. This is a missed opportunity. You can use tried and tested communication methods to share your evidence, strengthen your message and attract more support for your cause. So go ahead, start shouting your message from the rooftops.
10. Use evidence to grow impact
All organizations should strive for a cycle of improvement – transparent performance, useful learning, better results, more support, and so on. To achieve this, consider how you can use accurate and timely information at all levels of your work and act on insights from that information.
Focusing on the “why,” measuring only the most important goals, and focusing on sharing the impact through stories are the key pieces to measuring impact well.
So, how do you get started? We happen to have a 10-part course that walks you through the steps to do all 10 tips. Start your journey to better impact practice today here!
Jonathan Coburn is founding director of Social Value Lab, an international centre for impact practice. Jonathan has worked with social enterprises, purpose-driven businesses and nonprofits for 23 years, to help them tell their story and transform their impact.