How to Talk about Social Impact Assessment
June 19, 2017
Social impact assessment is a rapidly evolving practice. As a result, no matter if your organization is just starting out or if it's been around for over 30 years, chances are your impact assessment process (if you have one) lacks in consistency of both data and messaging.
While some members of your staff may know the names of every beneficiary you serve, they might not know the Vision or Mission. Challenges like this make the concept of a formidable impact report feel like a possibility only in the distant future. Indeed, the process of establishing the framework, the metrics, the data tracking tools, the waiting, collection of data, analysis of data - all before it's possible to publish your impact report. What a process! However, it's not just work and waiting - you can plunge into the waters of social impact assessment with the assurance that as the process evolves over time, starting week one new elements of your reporting needs will be unearthed as you go. This article will talk you through navigating the limbo world of social impact reporting in the time before the indicators' data is aggregated for analysis. What follows is how to make this period productive and enable you to communicate elements of your evolving impact story as the process unfolds...
Typically impact reports cover three areas: (1) Impact Framework; (2) Assessment Results; (3) Performance Evaluation.
You'll notice, that while the last two are necessary for completed evaluative report, the first offers great insights into the impact hypothesis of an organization. Effectively demonstrating this hypothesis alongside a roadmap for data collection for analysis, is impact communication in its own right.
Here's a quick tale of two cities: the first was dreamt up with a clear vision that was well communicated. This allowed for strategic planning. The infrastructure and city development, built from the ground-up, evolved into a beautifully efficient community. The second, a city built organically over time - subject to the whims of a diverse array of mayors and stakeholders, grew into a large and clumpy conglomerate of traffic and inequity.
When it comes to building your impact framework, starting your assessment journey, you can follow the design of the first city - even if your organization is no where near new. However, it is just as powerful to have a well established impact framework that nods to the organization's history (no matter how inconsistent a story it is), while outlining a definitive impact hypothesis alongside a way forward. You can make the data waiting period a productive one - building out the documentation for your organization's historical context and your impact framework. This clarity in vision will be a bold cornerstone of supporting narrative once the data does roll in for assessment and demonstration.
Of the three areas of an impact report identified above, one of those sections (Impact Framework) does not require data analysis. Nonetheless, it is a fundamental piece of your impact story. In some cases, the ability to speak to your approach toward impact moving forward can open up unexpected doors for engagement with potential funders. That was the case with one of our asset manager and social businesses (investment). To embark on the journey of developing your own impact framework, take a look at Actionable Impact Management (AIM) a series of guidebooks discovering and documenting your framework.
So, you've got your framework in place. Now what? Knowing where to put it starts by understanding your framework's value and why people are interested. By explaining your impact framework you are engaging your stakeholders (donors, beneficiaries, board, staff, public) in a transparent way - looping them in to your practices and processes. It is a credibility-building exercise.
What if you've been around for 50 years? How do you introduce a new way forward while giving due credit to where you've been? As we mentioned in the opening of this article - impact assessment is a RAPIDLY evolving field. Few - if any - can boast a consistent and comprehensive impact measurement strategy over their history. So be a little forgiving and embrace your historical assessments.
Anything with recurring structures catches the eye of technology enthusiasts as an opportunity. At SoPact we caught on to the recurrence of impact storytelling and its intrinsic coupling with data management. That is how the Impact Cloud was born. The software platform manages the data collection, aggregation, and analysis for impact storytelling. We noticed the importance of demonstrating all of the primary components of impact reports mentioned earlier: (1) Impact Framework; (2) Assessment Results; (3) Performance Evaluation. The recurring structures embedded within each have evolved into layouts of what we call 'impact cards.' In the system, each impact card contains a layout demonstrative of the information it is conveying (from Theory of Change to data assessment results).
These cards are automatically updated as new data comes in and can be easily downloaded and placed on anything from postcards for donors to websites, emails, reports - and the list goes on. As we move out of Phase One's Impact Framework, and the data does start streaming in, it's helpful to have an enduring process already in place. If you want to check out Impact Cloud, we're always happy to chat.
Topics: Impact Management
Unmesh is the founder of the SoPact. SoPact is a personal vision that grew from 30 years of experience in technology, management, and the social sector.