Showcasing Impact: A Fast, Cheap, and Good Approach?!

It’s a constant challenge for leaders of purpose-driven organizations to showcase their goals and demonstrate their impact for stakeholders. Here’s one approach, using simple dashboards.

The problem for reporting managers and social entrepreneurs is that they must…

  1. craft a clear and compelling message, backed by data, about how they’re achieving their goals that is tailored to different audiences, and
  2. do so in a timely way, and be able to update it quickly as circumstances change, and
  3. keep measurement, evaluation, and reporting costs within the often meagre budget for these things

In this post I present the simple, understandable approach to creating compelling impact reports that Junxion uses to bust the old cliché about professional services: “fast, cheap, or good—you can choose any two”.

The approach outlined here was originally developed by the Demonstrating Value Resource Society for use by nonprofit social enterprises; there is a wealth of measurement and reporting resources for social entrepreneurs available at www.demonstratingvalue.org. Junxion is working closely with Demonstrating Value to adapt their tools and materials for use by both nonprofit and private sector purpose-driven organizations.

Cut through information overload

Managers are usually drowning in information.

In our experience, managers are not usually struggling to find the right information to show their impact—more often they are drowning in information. Identifying your key audiences is a good starting point. We ask clients “to whom do you need to show the impact of your work?”, and “what do they need to know?” Through surveys, interviews, and reviews of existing communication materials, we develop a clear ‘short list’ of key information needs or information ‘proof points’ that various stakeholder audiences want to see. Managers are, of course, an important audience to include. It can be illuminating to get fresh eyes on the question “What do I need to know to manage my progress to my impact goals?”

At a farmers’ market, vendors primarily wanted to know about customer numbers and buying behavior, while market managers wanted a bigger picture view of the market’s contribution to the local food economy. The impact investors funding a developer of affordable housing wanted big-picture finance and operating figures—debt service ratio, cash reserves, building square feet and so on, whereas the nonprofit partners they work with, and the municipalities that approve projects, want data on security of tenure, rent levels, and how the developments will build community.

Put information in formation

In our discovery process, we gather rich information about an organization’s goals, the specific outcomes and indicators that could tell their story of progress toward those goals, and we seek to understand where that information comes from, and how accessible it is.

We put this all together in a simple relational database (Diagram – Entity Relationship Diagram) that creates an Information Map for the client. This is a comprehensive mapping of Audiences, Impact Goals, Indicators, and Data Sources.

Junxion has used cloud-based Airtable™ for this, but any relational database will work. The information map clearly shows the user what information, from where, is needed to support telling a compelling story to a specific audience, so that no extra effort is wasted gathering information that people do not want or need. This comprehensive view of internal and external information needs is a huge win for managers, before even proceeding to implementing changes to impact measurement and reporting systems.

Improve your ROI on Impact Reporting

Turn a heaping pile of factoids into a soaring cathedral of inspiration!

There are two beneficials ways to view the Information Map. 

Organized by audience, we can clearly see the “table of contents” for a report to a specific audience—what to leave in, what to leave out (or push to ‘page 2’). We can more easily make decisions about how to arrange data points into a compelling story, or a strong narrative flow. It’s like having the building blocks of the story visible in front of you so you can make what might otherwise be a heaping pile of factoids into a soaring cathedral of inspiration.

In the the example above, we can see what information we want to show on an update (or a pitch) to a major donor for an employment-based social enterprise.

Organized by data source, we can see a client’s information systems “from the other end”—it quickly becomes apparent which data sources (e.g. financial systems, staff, 3rd party platforms) are the source of the information that is most valuable to multiple audiences, and we can allocate resources to developing these data management and analysis capabilities accordingly.

While the first view (by audience) might have suggested that the financial accounting package was the most important data source, when we look “from the other side” (for the same example enterprise) we can see that supervisors have an overload of information gathering tasks—a project or case management system may be in order to help save data from getting lost in random, disconnected e-mails and spreadsheets that are time consuming to navigate and summarize.

This view of the Information Map can identify the best places for an organization to achieve big efficiency gains, or get added value, from investing in their impact measurement toolbox.

Now, make it so!

Our engagements usually conclude with developing wireframes for a set of ‘smart reports’ (also called dashboards, or snapshots), which are a great tool for combining data with an impact narrative in a succinct, visually appealing format.

The example above focuses more on quantitative data, although some anecdotal data is included. his is consistent with the information needs for the ‘green building investor’ revealed in advance surveying. Snapshots for other audiences may have more or less narrative.

Taking this comprehensive view of reporting cuts out the duplication of effort traditionally involved in combining the same data in different ways for different audiences.

Initial development of a system that can do data integration and reporting in this fashion may not be extremely cheap, but when you add up the costs of staff time, designers, review and printing for more traditional annual reports, publications, and web content, it is a competitive alternative that has lasting value. With ‘live’ data connections, it’s faster and easier to change or replace data and make regular updates; off-the-shelf tools like Microsoft BI and Tableau have made implementation feasible in terms of cost, even for small organizations with limited budgets for custom development.

Some examples of complete dashboards, in a variety of formats, are available in the Demonstrating Value snapshots gallery.

Please give us a call to talk about how we can help you to develop your own information map and snapshots. We’re happy to ‘Shift Your Thinking’ about what you can achieve—and about the stakeholder support you might mobilize!

 

Garth Yule is Junxion’s Managing Director in Canada. He’s passionate about helping social enterprises and nonprofits identify ‘the differences that make a difference.’ Reach him via [email protected]

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