Across sectors, organizations are realizing that measuring and communicating impact isn’t just about satiating a moral imperative, it is fundamentally linked to sustainable value creation. And yet, while this commitment is growing, the know-how for execution may still be lacking.
Mission-driven organizations, such as traditional charities, report frequent challenges in their social impact assessment journey. These include:
1) a lack of resources
2) a perceived lack of relevant skills and
3) not knowing what and how to measure.
To address these challenges, an emerging wealth of metrics and methodologies related to impact measurement has been established: B Impact Assessment, GIIRS Ratings, GRI guidelines, IRIS metrics, and the SROI methodology (just to name a few).
Still, these do not fully address the organizational resource problem, nor the skills gap making it difficult to identify what and how to measure in the first place. Lean impact measurement, a consolidated methodology of best practices, aims to meet these remaining needs.
A data-driven process for impact measurement and assessment developed by SoPact, this four-step guide is tailored to the social sector, and leverages both technological and social impact expertise. Its greatest utility is that it is actionable for realistic implementation.
This blog is the first in a series which will detail lean impact measurement. We begin here with an overview and examine why it is important to bring this leaner process to the world of social change.
Defining Actionable Impact Management
By applying principles of the lean startup methodology to the impact evidence process, funders, changemakers and beneficiaries alike can achieve an efficient, successful impact journey.
The term “lean” has been thrust in front of many words in order to describe a faster, more efficient, and equally (if not more) effective process compared to traditional models. Lean entrepreneur, lean manufacturing, lean management, and even lean thinking for everyday life demonstrate the adaptability of the term, although perhaps not the ease of its execution in each context.
Within the context of business, lean essentially refers to reducing or eliminating inefficiencies in value streams. What does this mean? It means we reduce cost, effort, human capital needed, time, etc., while simultaneously being more agile in responding to changing customer preferences or market conditions.
Of course, as more companies successfully integrate lean into their practices it becomes more of a necessity in the competitive landscape. Business schools are now training students in lean methodologies and courses specifically tailored to social entrepreneurs are becoming more accessible. Lean impact measurement processes, however, have remained largely mired at the frontier of the social enterprise world. Until now.
Leaning into Social Impact
In four overarching steps, the lean impact measurement methodology aims to build organizational capacity across the entire end-to-end process of impact reporting.
- Vision, Mission, & Goals
- Program Structure
- Theory of Change
- Managing Change
- Measure What Matters
- Standard Metrics Alignment
- Metrics Data Pipeline + Tools
- Data Management
- Data Analysis
- Strategic Planning
- Impact Report
- Reporting Types
- Best Practices
Upcoming blogs in this series will explore the details and best practices associated with each step. What is important to know now is that lean impact measurement isn’t about creating (potentially compromising) shortcuts, it’s about making the end-to-end process of measurement more efficient, more relevant, and more accurate.
Ultimately, this four-step methodology creates a logical path for impact teams to engage the impact evidence process, saving time and money while building a comprehensive impact infrastructure for all stakeholders. To date, valiant standardization efforts have brought much-needed dialogue and a bevy of choices to impact measurement practices. While it is tempting to broadly standardize, the nuanced nature of impact across sectors, cultures, geographies, funding streams, etc. demands in a certain sense a lack of standardization in order to preserve the quality of impact measurement.
The lean impact measurement methodology I will be describing is not an effort to standardize. It represents a framework, a compilation of best practices, resources, and tools which offers an efficient path towards meeting any changemaker’s unique measurement needs.In the end, a leaner process will make impact measurement more accessible to everyone across the impact spectrum. In the coming weeks I will share more deeply how this four-step process works. But in the meantime, be aware there are a few recommended to-do’s before starting this lean impact measurement journey.
Stepping Into Groundwork
An eagerness to measure impact and figure out how to do so is a key ingredient for any socially-driven organization. And yet, this must not come at the expense of the “why” that motivates you in the first place. Before tackling an impact measurement process it is essential to address five key areas related to this “why” in the “Pre-work” portion of the lean impact measurement process.
Define your Vision, Mission, and Goals
This first step recognizes the importance of articulating why you exist, or what you are doing to address that why. The 8-word miss ion statement is a good place to begin for a succinct, but compelling way to express that. As Kevin Starr points out in the article, “It jump-starts a productive and respectful conversation that doesn’t waste anyone’s time.” How’s that for lean?
Impact measurement workflows often become muddled in the transitions between and across stakeholder groups and engagement platforms. A well defined programmatic structure paired with a shared understanding of the flow of information between your organization, your partners, and their beneficiaries is essential to creating a streamlined impact measurement process. An outcome is the effect you see, or hope to see, in your beneficiaries. It is a measure of what changes. If you are treating blindness in a rural village, an outcome you might track is if the people you treat regain their sight. Some outcomes are harder to track and measure, but they are the most relevant to tracking if the impact you are striving for is actually occurring. A deeper read on this topic can be found here. Have you mapped how what you do (your activities) creates your desired outcomes? You probably have at least a vague idea. But in outlining the relationships between inputs and outputs -- and how you acquire inputs and what you achieve with outputs -- you begin to establish a foundation for efficient metrics discovery (step one of lean impact measurement!). There are many templates for theory of change models, so take a look around and see what makes most sense for your organization.Traditionally, businesses struggled when customer preferences changed too fast for them to iterate their products and survive. So they created leaner processes. The same can be done for impact measurement.
Some methodologies and other resources have come to market in this arena, and yet resource limitations, a difficulty establishing relevant metrics, and a lack of attributable skills remain significant challenges. It doesn’t have to be this way.
With four simple steps embedded in an end-to-end guiding framework, and a good deal of hard work, impact organizations and their partners can join this lean revolution.
In fact, you just read this blog, so your Ground-Work can start today.
Learn More: Impact reporting
Written by Alan Pierce
Alan is a social sector consultant and one of the founding directors of Quantica Education, a school of social entrepreneurship in Colombia.