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Rachel Dodd 8/29/17 11:34 AM 3 min read

How to Define Social Impact Outcome Metrics


Outcome metrics or Impact Metrics are, put, results. The measurement of outcomes illustrates the kind of impact that programs have had on communities served.

In this brief blog, we'll define the difference between indicators and outcomes, and delve into the steps organizations can take to properly define their outcomes.

No matter the size of your organization, with the strategies we discuss here, you'll be able to get started on (or be equipped to redefine) your outcomes mapping strategy.


Social Impact Indicators Vs. Outcome Metrics

While solely measuring activities and outputs (indicators of change) are significantly more straightforward, these types of measurements deliver little insight into the results of social impact efforts. Such measurements may also inadvertently sway how an organization delivers impact programming.

For instance, if an organization is being measured for how many students are served rather than how many went on to find a valuable career post-graduation (the organization's mission), that organization may begin expanding class sizes to serve more students, potentially diluting each student’s experience.

Taking the concept of indicators a bit further, many organizations use indicators to imply impact without actually showing that the organization's activities actually created any impact. Not only can this be disingenuous, but it can also create a false sense of impact achievement, thus hurting beneficiaries and putting at risk the ability to raise capital (impact investors, donors, and philanthropists are more and more sensitive to impact-washing).

Read More: 3 Reasons: Why measuring impact for nonprofits is essential?

theory of change exampleInstead, Mission-driven organizations should focus on developing a strong social change strategy using a theory of change or logic model to build a strong evidence-based approach to scale social impact and measure its effectiveness.

These organizations must develop strong outcome goals to be able to do the latter. Outcome metrics are metrics designed to demonstrate a change or outcome of a program, project, product, or service.  So, how do we select outcome metrics and assess such outcomes?

Read More: 5 Ways Economic Development Organizations Should Enrich Impact Data

What is a social outcome?

To select outcome-oriented metrics, one must first define an impact hypothesis by establishing a relevant Theory of Change (ToC). Once there is a clear understanding of all outcomes, outputs, activities, and inputs, a few things are revealed:

  • A list of outcomes to be transformed into metrics
  • A list of outputs to be considered for transforming into metrics
  • An ironed-out visual of each program that highlights any existing gaps in program delivery and evaluation
Before we move any further, a note about the Theory of Change (ToC): It is the empirical basis of the organization's impact hypothesis. While there is a depth of resources covering ToC, there is no standard template for mapping it out.

Map Social Impact Outcome Metrics

Read More: How can social impact data be used to measure and manage the impact?

Mapping Impact Outcome Metrics

Above is the Theory of Change template found in the Actionable Impact Management (AIM) methodology for impact measurement. It is designed to deliver a clear understanding of the revelations outlined before (let’s recap):

  • A list of outcomes to be transformed into metrics
  • A list of outputs to be considered for transforming into metrics
  • An ironed out visual of each program that highlights any existing gaps in program delivery and evaluation

Read More: The Art Of Actionable Impact Storytelling

A ToC starts with an outcome (long-term goal) and then maps backward, listing the outputs (indicators) that this outcome is coming to pass, then listing the activities necessary for those outputs to happen, and finally documenting the inputs (resources) needed for each of those activities.

Defining Social Impact Outcome Metrics in a Grid

In this way, each outcome documented becomes a social impact metrics set. Its outcome and some of its outputs are transformed into metrics that measure for impact results.

Get Social Impact Outcome Metrics to Meaningful Level

This is one way to structure an organization's metrics selection process to ensure a list of strategic outcome metrics linked to the organization's impact hypothesis. Once those metrics are outlined, they are ready to be built out to ensure that each one is well understood.




Rachel Dodd

Rachel leads the Actionable Impact Management (AIM) framework development from SoPact's side and oversees partnerships.