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Standard Metrics vs. Custom Metrics: Tailoring What's Best For You

Explore the contrasting worlds of Standard Metrics vs custom Metrics in social impact. Understand their implications for investors and social enterprises.

In social impact, the challenge to quantify and measure change is paramount. For investors, it's about ensuring their investments yield tangible returns. For investments, social enterprises, and non-profits, it's about understanding the depth and breadth of their interventions. The metrics chosen to evaluate these impacts can significantly influence the narrative. This article delves into the contrasting worlds of standard and custom metrics, shedding light on their applications and implications from both an investor and enterprise perspective.

Standard Metrics

The Benchmark for Impact

Standard metrics are universally recognized measures that provide a consistent framework for assessing impact across various programs and sectors. They serve as a common language, facilitating comparison and benchmarking. One notable example of a standard metric framework is the Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS) developed by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN). IRIS metrics are specifically designed to measure investments' social, environmental, and financial performance, making them incredibly useful for investors seeking to evaluate the effectiveness of their investments. By employing standardized metrics like IRIS, investors can easily compare the impact of different investments and make informed decisions based on tangible returns.

To get a better understanding of how these metrics work in practice, let's review a few examples: PI5234 measures the number of students completing STEM education and training programs, PI5235 captures the percentage of students securing employment in STEM fields post-training, and PI5552 evaluates the percentage of students reporting improved confidence in STEM after training. These metrics provide clear and quantifiable data points that allow investors to assess the extent of social impact generated by their investments. Using standard metrics like IRIS, investors can ensure that their investments yield tangible returns and contribute to positive societal change.

IRIS Metrics

A subset of standard metrics, the IRIS metrics, developed by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), are designed to measure investments' social, environmental, and financial performance. Examples include:

  • PI5234: Number of students completing STEM education and training programs.
  • PI5235: Percentage of students securing employment in STEM fields post-training.
  • PI5552: Percentage of students reporting improved confidence in STEM after training.

Custom Metrics

The Tailored Measure

Custom metrics cater to specific programs' unique goals and objectives. They capture the essence of each intervention, ensuring that the nuances and specificities are preserved. Examples might include:

A number of at-risk girls are completing a STEM program, empowering them with the necessary skills and opportunities to pursue successful careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. By tracking the number of girls who successfully complete the program, organizations can measure the effectiveness of their interventions in promoting gender equality and empowering young women in STEM fields.

The Income levels of program graduates serve as an essential custom metric for evaluating the economic impact of interventions. By monitoring the income levels of those who have completed a program, organizations can assess the success of their initiatives in providing individuals with the necessary skills and resources to secure well-paying jobs. This metric demonstrates the program's financial returns and indicates the potential for long-term economic empowerment and social mobility.

These custom metrics go beyond standard measurements, allowing organizations to delve deeper into their programs' specific outcomes and impacts. By capturing these unique data points, organizations can better understand the transformative power of their interventions and make informed decisions to improve and optimize their social impact initiatives.

How can social purpose organization (SPO) differentiate their unique value proposition?
Shun standardization. Rejecting standardization encourages unique impacts. The old "carve out your niche" advice is fitting. Validate your distinctiveness through data and value incessantly. They'll be drawn to your unique narrative repeatedly. While this advice is directly applicable to SPOs, investors obviously needs some form of standarization.
A Tale of Two Viewpoints

Investor Metrics

Investors, driven by their desire for tangible returns, often gravitate toward standard metrics to evaluate the performance of their investments. These metrics, particularly the renowned IRIS framework, provide a clear and efficient method for assessing the social and financial impact generated by various investments. By using standard metrics, investors can easily compare different investment opportunities and make informed decisions based on measurable returns. However, one significant challenge arises when trying to align these metrics with specific investments. Each enterprise has its own unique context and approach to measuring impact, making it extremely difficult to find a one-size-fits-all solution.

While standard metrics offer a solid foundation for evaluating impact, organizations must recognize that they should not be the ultimate endpoint. Instead, they should adopt a learning mindset, focusing on whether their programs are truly effective rather than simply trying to impress investors. To fully embrace impact measurement, organizations need to equip themselves with the right tools, including the necessary skills and technology typically associated with for-profit entities. Additionally, they should develop a tailored measurement framework that customizes metrics to suit their specific programs. This personalized approach allows organizations to delve deeper into the outcomes and impacts of their interventions, ultimately providing a more comprehensive understanding of their social impact.

In conclusion, while standard metrics provide a robust framework for evaluating impact, organizations should not solely rely on them. Custom metrics offer a more nuanced understanding of their programs' unique outcomes and impacts. Striking a balance between both types of metrics allows organizations to tell an authentic story of change that resonates with both the heart and mind. By embracing a personalized approach to impact measurement, organizations can truly demonstrate the transformative power of their interventions and make informed decisions to improve and optimize their social impact initiatives.

Enterprise or Social Purpose Organization Point of View

However, the story differs for enterprises, non-profits, and social purpose organizations. The mindset hurdles and an industry-wide obsession with standardization often limit their ability to embrace standard metrics fully. The industry's inclination towards frameworks like sustainable development goals or ESG criteria sometimes overshadows the real essence of impact measurement.

Consider an organization aiming to boost students' confidence in math. A standard metric might measure the "% of students feeling more confident in math." But what if 85% of students claim they are "Extremely confident"? This data might be misleading without hard evidence, such as improvements in math scores. It's essential to correlate such metrics with tangible outcomes to gauge impact truly.

Organizations in the enterprise and social purpose sectors face unique challenges regarding impact measurement. While standard metrics provide a useful starting point, they often fail to capture the full picture of an organization's impact. The focus on standardized frameworks can sometimes overshadow the true essence of impact measurement, which should be centered on understanding the real-world outcomes and improvements a program achieves.

For example, a program aimed at boosting students' confidence in math may initially rely on a standard metric like the percentage of students reporting increased confidence. However, without tying this metric to tangible outcomes, such as improved math scores or increased participation in advanced math courses, the data can be misleading. An organization needs to go beyond surface-level metrics and analyze the actual impact of their interventions on students' academic performance and long-term success.

To overcome these challenges, organizations must adopt a learning mindset and prioritize the effectiveness of their programs over impressing investors or adhering to standardized frameworks. To accurately measure and evaluate their impact, they should equip themselves with the necessary tools and resources, including skills and technology commonly associated with for-profit entities. Additionally, organizations should develop a tailored measurement framework that aligns with their specific goals and objectives, allowing them to capture their interventions' unique outcomes and impacts.

By embracing a personalized approach to impact measurement, enterprises, non-profits, and social purpose, organizations can better understand their programs' effectiveness and the extent of their social impact. This deeper understanding will enable them to make informed decisions, optimize their interventions, and tell an authentic story of change that resonates with both the heart and mind. Ultimately, the goal is to drive meaningful and sustainable positive societal change.

The crux is that while standard metrics might be a starting point, they shouldn't be organizations' endpoints. Impact measurement should be personalized, backed by hard evidence, quality data, and processes that draw insights from that data.

Overcoming the Hurdles

To truly embrace impact measurement, organizations must:

Adopt a Learning Mindset: Begin with "Is my program working?" rather than "What can I show the investor?"

Equip with the Right Tools: Access skills and technology on par with for-profit entities.

Develop a Tailored Measurement Framework: Customize metrics to their specific programs.

In Conclusion

While standard metrics provide a robust framework, custom metrics offer a more nuanced understanding of impact. Both investors and organizations need to strike a balance, leveraging both types of metrics to get a comprehensive view of impact. Ultimately, it's about telling an authentic story of change that resonates with the heart and mind.

Frequently asked questions

When should an organization use standard metrics?
Standard metrics are best when comparing performance across industry, ensuring compliance, or aligning with common benchmarks.
What are the benefits of custom metrics?
How do you develop custom metrics?