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The Catch-22 Problem with Social Impact Assessment

impact metrics | impact measurement

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

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Posted on 2017-07-27

There's a Catch-22 in social impact assessment or social impact measurement field. Funders choose metrics based on the varying capacity of grantees. To measure consistently, this capacity is only as good as the weakest link. Paired with the limited data-capacity faced by the funders themselves, this results in the low hanging fruit of the data world and translates into the selection of easy-to-measure activity or output focused metrics.

These metrics hold little strategic value for the grantees, especially if they are only measured for a short period, and with an already strained capacity for operations and activities, measurement of data offering little insights might not be at the top of staff priorities. And so, a stigma has evolved around the trustworthiness of the data received as well as how helpful what we're calling 'measurement and evaluation' really is to discern the impactful results of our interventions. With such little regard for the practice, there is little incentive to invest in improving the process, and so, here we are in a Catch-22 of activity-driven measurement. 

Read More - Is collective impact evaluation the future of social impact assessment?


problems with social impact assessment


Is Outcome-Driven Social Impact Assessment Worth the Effort? 

Something wonderful happens when an organization decides to have an outcome-driven social impact measurement process. They begin to reassess their impact framework more critically than ever before. That's because, to build an enduring practice for impact measurement, an organization must have a well-developed impact foundation to guide it through the metrics selection. This starts with their Vision statement and moves through their Theory of Change.

What we've found is that some of our clients were missing elements of this impact framework. The ability (for the first time) to measure for results facilitates an internal conversation around the broader impact hypothesis, and the organization is left with more established impact messaging.

The benefits of results-driven evaluation go beyond the structuring of an organization's impact framework. It includes the strategic insights gained from a better understanding of the outcomes of your interventions. Armed with such insights, your organization is better able to iterate the process. And when built upon a solid foundation that includes a thoughtful Theory of Change, an organization is more aware of its assumptions and areas of potential risk. With an outcome-oriented approach, measurement and evaluation become a pivotal element of your organization's strategic decisions. With the ability to more confidently speak to the specific results of your interventions, your marketing and donor relations will also benefit. 

Read More - The potential social and economic returns of collective impact


Improved Social Impact Measurement Processes

One phrase that pops up again and again in the unfortunate cycle is "data capacity". If we might be able to enhance our own capacity and that of our partners, perhaps we will be able to take on more challenging metrics that offer more strategic insights. Once the value of the data becomes apparent, its positive impact on programming, marketing, donor relations, and grant seeking lead to better staff engagement with the data reporting. Especially if reporting becomes more user-friendly.

Impact Cloud™ was designed to be accessible and thorough, flexible enough to meet the data needs of various socially minded organizations. And it starts with a well-developed impact framework. Actionable Impact Management begins with the introspective work of defining a Vision, Mission, and Goals; Program Structure; and Theory of Change before moving on to the selection of metrics and your data strategy. 

 The transformation from activity or output metrics to outcome metrics can mean all the difference in buy-in. By strengthening data capacity, funders can make that transformation a reality.

Read MoreHow can we improve social impact accounting?