The Right Approach to Impact Measurement

Just when you got the hang of measuring your carbon footprint, things got more complicated again. Do you have what it takes to measure social impact the right way? There isn’t a single “right way” to measure social impact, but that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all.

Choose well, or risk reputation damage.

You can’t simply measure whatever you want and post it on your blog as evidence that you’re doing the right thing—that’s where future reputation scandals start. I’m a champion for The Common Approach to Impact Measurement—a clear and comprehensive approach to social impact measurement that will set you on the right path to building trust, customer loyalty, and a stronger brand and competitive strategy.

As a champion for this approach, I can help your organization to plan your intended social impacts, use performance measures, collect useful information, gauge your performance and impact, and report on results—and throughout, engage your customers, clients, media, staff, funders, investors, and more. This will get the systems and processes in place that will meet your needs and theirs for informed social impact conversations and decisions.

What is the Common Approach?

The Common Approach is a community-owned, flexible impact measurement standard that can be used by social purpose organizations to more effectively tell their impact story. It is being built on cutting-edge, globally-recognized impact measurement research and the collaborative efforts of non-profits, social purpose organizations, responsible businesses, grant-makers, investors, and academics.

It is built on the following five key elements:

The right sized approach to impact measurement

Business and nonprofit leaders are increasingly expected to say something credible about their social impact and there is a lot of apprehension about how to get started, and how to do it right. There is no “one size fits all” solution for measuring impact, and there is a big grey area between the “minimum standard” and the “gold standard”. 

Organizations who are starting out on their social impact measurement journey, or looking to improve their existing practice, will benefit from looking at the Common Foundations—a set of essential practices for social impact measurement. The Common Foundations help you find the ‘right sized’ approach based on your particular situation.

The Common Foundations are:

  • Plan your intended change: A plan specifies how, and why, specific activities will bring about change, focuses and describes the scope of measurement efforts, and clarifies who should be involved. Be aware of the changes that matter most to stakeholders.
  • Use performance measures: These help assess how well work is carried out, and what effects it has. A good set of performance measures will inform how to create impact, and what changes have occurred. 
  • Collect useful information: The information collected should be useful enough to you to make it worth the effort. This utility derives both from what information is collected, and from how it is collected, and how often. The right combination of those factors helps improve activities, and to demonstrate progress.
  • Gauge performance and impact: Assembling and analyzing data is required to gain insights about what works, and about how well you are doing. Whether quantitative or qualitative, data must be presented in a reasonable and credible context. 
  • Report on results: Reporting not only helps make better decisions about what to do next; it also allows better communication of achievements clearly and persuasively to others. Accordingly, the method for reporting this evidence is important for showing that your organization is trustworthy and accountable. 

We’re fond of quoting measurement maven Jeremy Nicholls who said “Any approach to measuring social impact that doesn’t include a transfer of power to stakeholders is just marketing.” A sixth essential practice is to involve key stakeholders in all practices, as they are central to understanding and describing impact well.

Benefits of doing it right

Done well, a well-planned and executed social impact measurement approach improves numerous core business functions, including:

Strategy

  • Help teams work together to achieve a shared understanding of a project and its aims
  • Make projects more effective
  • Help identify and open up ‘black boxes’ in thinking

Analysis and decision making

  • Help determine what needs to be measured (and what does not) so you can plan your activities
  • Encourage teams to engage with the existing evidence base
  • Act as the basis for claims about attribution

Communication

  • Quickly communicate a project’s aims
  • Bring the process of change and social impact to the forefront

Employee engagement

  • Recruiting top talent seeking social impact brands
  • Broadening the range intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to retain staff
  • More depth in conversations about vision, mission and values

Assess your own capacity for measuring social impact

Take this survey to assess yourself. If you can follow the five essential Foundations, then you can say that you are aligned with the Common Approach to Impact Measurement. If you aren’t there yet, but you’d like to be, please contact us and we’ll see how we can help. 

Garth Yule advises organizations on values, social purpose and impact strategy. To find out more about working on your business, reach him at [email protected] to book a call.

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