In a Thursday afternoon at Impact Hub San Francisco, SoPact delivered a three-hour workshop to a packed room of participants. "How to Turn Data Into Impact Evidence" offered the room of sustainability consultants, social entrepreneurs, foundation representatives and other social change practitioners the opportunity to learn about Actionable Impact Management (AIM), and to engage in the process themselves.
Objectives included: sharing best practices in choosing the right metrics, building a data collection strategy, and composing meaningful impact reports. Overall, participants gained knowledge to help them design strategies for environmental and social impact assessment at their own organizations.
In the second half, participants divided themselves into groups and tackled the process itself, using a case example from one of their peers to practice the entire methodology. What follows is a brief summary of both segments, and some key challenges and learnings expressed by participants at the culmination of the experience.
At what stage of the impact journey do you find yourself? Haven’t begun. Just started. Well on my way. The hands raised for this question indicated a diverse group, and yet most expressed they were about to have a much-needed introduction to an end-to-end social impact management process.
Presenters Unmesh Sheth and Rachel Dodd initially guided a discussion of the overarching steps SoPact has outlined in the Actionable Impact Management journey: Groundwork, Metrics, Data, and Communication. An upcoming blog series will examine each of these steps, guiding the reader through a case study in the process. For now, the following video gives an excellent overview:
In the second half of the workshop teams of 4-5 individuals, led by a member of the SoPact team, dove into the AIM process with a series of activities designed to mirror how an organization would undertake a similar endeavor. I also participated in this activity.
My team used the example of an elephant conservation center in Thailand, an actual initiative of one of our team members. Together with two students from Hult International Business School and our team leader, Lorena Rodriguez, we first analyzed the programming structure of the organization.
This first step helped us understand how to define the scope of each program area, which would later serve as a framework for defining impact metrics. Before defining those metrics, however, we discussed the key outcome from the main program -- improving the quality of life of the elephants. This was the easy part. What we found more difficult was defining relevant metrics to assess whether that was being achieved. In particular, we had a lengthy discussion about the difference between an outcome and an output.
Our team leader put it succinctly, “An outcome is a measure of what changes.” We consciously and continuously referred back to this definition as we laid out a map of 3 core metrics related to improving the quality of life of elephants. You can see some of our brainstorming in the image below.
Moving along we also defined how exactly the data might be acquired, answering questions like, “Who will be gathering this data?” or “Does it involve offline or online data collection” or “Are there already operational databases in place with such data?” This last question brought up the example of an elephant veterinarian. This person likely already has a data collection platform they use to host the medical data they acquire. Such data can be tapped into for more efficient impact data collection.
Overall, this process rapidly generated sound examples and a full framework for our team member to return to her organization and develop an initiative for comprehensive social impact measurement. Our shared insights, as well as the difficulties that arose in our process, offered us experiential wisdom which we also shared with the rest of the participants.
Upon regrouping at the end of the day each team shared some thoughts regarding challenges and learnings they experienced. Click through each team below to explore these insights.
Led by Hetal Sheth
Challenges - Defining the scope of the program. An essential part of the pre-work process, the team expressed how they needed to work and re-work on scoping each program so that each was achieving a specific “why” and was well-defined enough to assign specific metrics.
Learnings - Realizing the limitations of certain metrics helped the team understand how tedious, but important, it is to assign appropriate metrics to each program area.
Led by Amogh Kanade
Challenges - This team spent a great deal of time articulating the Theory of Change (TOC) and constructing a stakeholder map. They grappled with how much importance to put on the TOC and stakeholder assessment at the outset of the process.
Learnings - It is an iterative process! As the team moved from TOC to defining metrics and into data collection strategies they recognized a need to return to earlier stages and engage in an iterative refining process.
Led by Rachel Dodd
Challenges - In discussing how specific data might be acquired, this team realized a limitation of their proposed metric because of the limited touch-points one might have with the beneficiary.
Learnings - The challenge they experienced engendered a realization that incentives are needed to encourage accurate and frequent follow-up for data collection. Overall, their sentiment was, “Maybe our organization is not as far ahead in this process as we thought -- we need to take a step back.”
Led by Liliana Corzo
Challenges - This team envisioned a difficulty in bringing what they have learned into their own CRM processes -- or at least making such a transition effective and sustainable.
Learnings - Aligning impact measurement processes with the needs and abilities of stakeholders is vitally important, especially as we integrate them into the overall process.
Led by Lorena Rodriguez
Challenges - Finding the right metric can be hard when doing so for a very unique program. There is a need to find metrics that are going to give the best insights on mission success.
Learnings - It’s not just about reporting, it’s about learning how the impact measurement process itself can help us achieve the goal(s) of our mission. Along this vein, qualitative metrics are important too, it’s not just about the quantitative.
Amidst the flurry of post-its, whiteboard notes and group sharing that occupied a swift, but full, three hours we all gained insight into how our processes of impact measurement and evaluation could be achieved in a lean way.
While there are no shortcuts on the path to effective and sustainable impact measurement, the AIM strategy outlined in this workshop offered a more rapid, simpler path than other methodologies which might exist. Simply having a guiding framework -- from Metrics Discovery to Data Collection and Impact Reporting -- enables practitioners to maximize efficiency in that process.
And as Unmesh pointed out, one of the biggest challenges many face on this impact journey is how to get started. Those who participated in this workshop have now faced that challenge, and stand more ready to actively catalyze their journey to turn data into impact evidence.