As business’s momentum to embrace social purpose continues to build, many leaders are keen to measure, confirm, and showcase the impact they’re making. This often starts with a deceptively simple question: Can you prove your claims? Do you have data that confirms your impact?
Telling a clear and compelling story about the impact and value of your work, backed up by credible evidence, helps you to make the (business) case for impact, demonstrate that you are living up to your stated purpose, and build and reinforce trust by showcasing the difference you’re making.
Measurement and reporting with an integrated, multi-capital approach helps you to ‘close the loop’ in your strategic management approach. But it isn’t easy: your progress toward resolving the challenges you face may be complicated to assess, and myriad assessment frameworks and reporting approaches make this part of purpose-based business dizzyingly confusing at best.
Four Essential Accountability Practices
There are “four plus one” essential practices for effective impact measurement. Engaging stakeholders is the “plus one,” because it’s part of all four practices, and the most essential for holding your organization accountable to your stated goals.
Set Objectives Setting impact goals should not be a standalone exercise, but part of your strategic planning. Aiming for ‘improvement’ is not enough if you’re not asking what is needed, what is adequate, and what is fair. Take a context-based approach like the ones described in r3.0 (formerly Reporting 3.0), the One Earth approach, or Doughnut Economics. The ultimate goal is to live within the sustainable thresholds of natural and social systems; every business must interpret this ‘big picture’ goal into an approach that makes sense in their local market and bioregion.
Through Junxion, you can connect to an international community of leading impact measurement practitioners.
Measure Results Your approach to measuring impact should increase the chance your findings, and the process you follow, will inform decisions and improve performance. This ‘utilization focused’ approach will help you to maximize your return on the resources you invest in measurement. Consider using a shared measurement framework like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), now used by thousands of enterprises to focus their efforts toward purposeful impact.
Assess and Value Impact Measuring and managing to non-financial outcomes is now a critical competency for all organizations. The next wave of integrated impact management practice will see financial accounting methods and packages fully integrated with non-financial measurement and data management. There are several commercial tools and platforms (Sametrica, Demonstrating Value, Impact Dashboard, SoPact, SocialSuite, etc.) as well as bespoke dashboard and ‘impact intelligence’ tools that can help you. Invest the time to get familiar with at least some of them—and assess how they can be applied in your organization.
Respond: Communicate and Adapt Learn from your own experience and improve your results. Variations on applied learning and creative adaptation come under different names, whether it’s Design Thinking, Lean Flourishing, or Developmental Evaluation. A skilled facilitator can help you answer the question “What now?” in a structured way, once you’ve gathered information about the impact of your work.
Reporting to the Power of Four
No stories without evidence; no evidence without stories.
To produce a strong sustainability or impact report, you’ll need to tell a coherent, honest, and complete story across four interrelated areas.
Context Establish how your organization sees the ‘state of the world’ and what you’re doing to contribute. The SDGs are a good ‘to do list’ for what the global community needs to fix.
Purpose Will you look at the root causes of the problems you see in the world? Or seek only to respond to symptoms? Does your leadership understand the scale of the challenge? Answering these questions deeply and clearly will position you to earn your stakeholders’ trust.
Innovation Be cautious not to overpromise, but also take care not to settle for the run-of-the-mill. Be honest about your organization’s capacity and opportunities to deliver real impact. Most of all, be authentic: your approach must match your context and purpose.
Impact Move beyond merely citing inputs and outputs, going deeper to provide insights into meaningful outcomes—the change you actually affect.
The best reporters stitch all this together. While this won’t make for a complete sustainability report (find a list of other factors here!), it does provide a strong foundation for thinking through what should be included.
Tell your story with a blend of humility and verve and you’ll have an engaging report that genuinely adds value to your business and society.
Junxion Strategy provides tailored evaluation and reporting services for large corporations and institutions, seed-stage startups, and many non-profit and ‘social profit organizations. We’ve also facilitated more B Corp certifications than any other consultancy. Learn more at Junxion.com/be-accountable.