SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT

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Introduction

SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT

Social Impact Assessment is a well-defined process of assessing the intended positive or negative social impact of projects, grants, or investments. Typically impact assessment cover three areas: (1) Impact Framework; (2) Assessment Results; (3) Performance Evaluation.

Social impact assessment is a rapidly evolving practice. As a result, no matter if your organization is starting out or if it's been around for over 30 years, chances are your impact assessment process (if you have one) lacks the 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 does not just work and waiting - you can plunge into the waters of social impact assessment with the assurance that as the process evolves, 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...

Social Impact Assessment has many things in common and many differences.  This is a comprehensive guide for practitioners to understand different measurement and management tools associated with the social impact assessment process. The importance of social impact assessment tools lies in those assessments' objective, which is to assess and evaluate the performance of a program or intervention so that execution can be improved along with the impacts generated.

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Social Impact Assessment:  Learn here from SoPact Academ

Fundamentals

WHAT IS SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT?

Social impact assessment is a rapidly evolving practice. As a result, no matter if your organization is starting out or if it's been around for over 30 years, chances are your impact assessment process (if you have one) lacks the 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 does not just work and waiting - you can plunge into the waters of social impact assessment with the assurance that as the process evolves, 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...
  • 01 Impact Framework
  • 02 Assessment Results
  • 03 Performance Evaluation
An outlined method for a social impact assessment that explains:
  • the organization's reasons for measuring the impact the documentation of the impact hypothesis (AIM Volume 1: Groundwork)
    Mission, Vision, Goals
    Program Design
    Theory of Change
    and how they measure the impact
  • The metrics used - custom or standard (IRIS, Guidestar, etc.)
    the tools for forms/surveys and data management (TurboMetrics Impact Cloud; Salesforce)
  • Whom they are collecting the data from
    the data reporting frequency, etc.
Data visualization and demonstration for quick insights
causality and other contextual support narratives

Start with Social Impact Measurement Framework

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 first city's design - even if your organization is nowhere 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 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 managers 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.

Communicating Part I: Your Impact 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 engage your stakeholders (donors, beneficiaries, board, staff, public) transparently - looping them into your practices and processes. It is a credibility-building exercise.

  • Website 
  • Social Media: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. 
    • Images of your Theory of Change
    • Links to your impact framework webpage
    • your Vision and Mission statements
  • Inbound Marketing Approach: Blogs 

Communicating Part II: Your History

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. 

  • Website 
    • Story Highlights
    • Timeline Review
    • "Our Story" - the origins of your organization
  • Social Media: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. 
    • Photos with story highlights
    • Links to your timeline and story highlights webpages.
    • Trivia-like messages about your organization's history
  • Inbound Marketing Approach: Blogs 
    •  The story of your organization's founding
    • Highlighting stories from the archives of beneficiaries, donors, previous programs/activities

Leveraging Technology

Communicating ImpactPart I & II (1)

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

There's a common Catch-22 in the social impact assessment or social impact measurement field.

Funders often choose metrics based on the varying capacity of grantees.  Paired with the limited data-capacity faced by funders themselves, this results in assessments that only capture the data world's low-hanging fruit.

In other words, it translates into the selection of easy-to-measure activity- or output- focused metrics.

In this article, we'll further explore why this tendency is so pervasive, how it works against the goals of a social impact assessment, and what we can do about it.

Whether you find yourself on the funder side, the asset side (social enterprises, etc.), or somewhere in between, by the end of this article, you'll better understand how to avoid the primary social impact assessment pitfall and will be armed with the tools necessary to do so successfully.

Why Your Social Impact Assessment Questionnaire is Failing

A social impact assessment ostensibly tells us how well a program or intervention is performing to achieve impact outcomes.

And yet, our view is that most assessments fail because they too often focus on outputs that have occurred instead of getting at outcomes.

Outputs are, of course, easily measured. Your questionnaire for program managers or beneficiary liaisons might include:

  • How many hours of training were delivered
  • How many people were served
  • How many products are being used by beneficiaries? These imply impact but do not demonstrate it.

And these metrics hold little strategic value for the grantees, especially if they are only measured for a short period.

And so, a stigma has evolved around the trustworthiness of the data received and 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 (i.e., output-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 potential risk areas. 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 your interventions' specific results, 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 take on more challenging metrics that offer more strategic insights. Once the data's value becomes apparent, its positive impact on programming, marketing, donor relations, and grant-seeking leads 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 various socially-minded organizations' data needs. 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 selecting 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 More: How can we improve social impact accounting?

CATEGORY

SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT TOOLS CATEGORY

Checklist of Social Impact Assessment Tools Requirements

While we estimate 90% of organizations use MS-Excel or Google Docs today and/or Custom solutions, including Salesforce, we believe it is important that the program team have clear objectives of selecting any long term tools. Process of tools or software selection must start with goals - is it raise impact capital, report to the funders, and improve social performance based on evidence.

  1. If you are a funder, how do you want to align your impact objectives with your assets (grantee or investee)?  
  2. Do you see improving the data capacity of your assets (investee/grantee) as your goals?

Keys to the selection process is a tool that must start with the theory of change and remain as a core part of a process throughout the lifecycle.

  • Impact Statement of Asset Manager (typically funder) and Assets (typically enterprises/non-profits)
  • Alignment of Impact Thesis
  • Due diligence
  • Rapid metrics alignment with the theory of change
  • Ability to select both standard and custom indicators
  • Alignment with sustainable development goals or custom goals
  • Data Strategy
  • Program and Project Data Aggregation for Assets
  • Investee or Grantee Data Aggregation
  • Stakeholder & Beneficiary Outcome Assessment Over Time
  • Data Analytics
  • Impact Reporting that aligns with theory of change, outcome reporting, and impact management goals

TYPES OF SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT TOOLS

Monitoring and Evaluation tools are used primarily during the data collection process of a social impact assessment. Their purpose is to pinpoint those outcome areas of an impact intervention or program which have the most relevance for the primary stakeholders, or beneficiaries, and shed light on to what extent such outcomes are occurring. These tools are generally used when there is some kind of interaction with these external stakeholders.

Social Impact Assessment tools are used to work with, compile, analyze, and share those impact data once they are collected. Their purpose is to facilitate how an organization leverages data on an internal level for the benefit of improving internal processes and also program outcomes.   

Read More: The catch 22 of social impact measurement

  • Survey tools - online
  • Survey tools - offline
  • SMS based
  • Phone-based
  • Monitoring and Evaluation - Project Level
  • Monitoring and Evaluation - Comprehensive
  • Impact Measurement and Management
  • Impact Rating 
  • Impact Scorecard
  • SROI Based

SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT TOOLS

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Connected Beneficiary

Online Data Collection

Beneficiary Accessible Through Email

As an internet connection becomes more and more ubiquitous, data collection which leverages such a connection does as well. The benefits are obvious --  quicker collection, real-time, less resource-intensive.

*It is worth noting that many of the tools mentioned in the Offline Data Collection Tools section also have online collection capabilities.

SMS & VOICE

SMS & VOICE BASED SOCIAL IMPACT TOOLS

Students or beneficiary accessible through phone but not using email

In developed country students tend to be often easier to engage SMS instead of email.  In a developing country such as Bangladesh, India, or China factories, many laborers can only be accessed using a feature phone or smartphone in anonymous ways.

Depending on the situation, API-based platforms such as Twilio can be used to access beneficiaries or stakeholders.

List of SMS APIs

If you have not integrated your business systems with a functional SMS API, your marketing strategies are not up-to-date, and you might lose your clients to competitors.

The following list illustrates the most popular SMS APIs & SMS API providers that you can try today to make your SMS marketing campaigns effective and superior:

1. Plivo: Plivo is a global SMS web service API (and Voice calls) for all businesses.

2. Telegram API: Telegram API is a free texting API that integrates secure messaging into your app.

3. Twilio: The Twilio API enables you to make voice calls, send SMS, and even MMS

4. MessageBird SMS Gateway API: The SMS Gateway API by MessageBird provides you with a platform for sending and receiving text messages (SMS) from all over the globe.

5. Telnyx API: Telnyx is a VoIP telecom service provider that uses a cloud-based platform to access carrier-grade voice services via the internet.

6. ClickSend SMS API

7. M-OTP API

Read MoreHow can we improve social impact accounting?

Broad Level Comparision

SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT - IMPACT RATING

First-generation impact assessment platforms focus on gathering governance, environmental, and social policies to assess entrepreneurs or Small Medium Business (SMB) or Small Growing Business (SGB).  Let's look at three examples -

1. MIX Markets: For Microfinance Institutes

2. AERIS Cloud: For CDFI Institutes

3. B-Assessment:  Impact on its workers, community, environment, and customers.

4. B-Analytics: For investors, supply chain managers, business networks, and governments in helping companies to measure and improve their positive impact.

There is a major theme behind these first-generation impact assessment.  Their main goal is to provide bench-marking to institutes that they focus on. 

The problem is that they try to use "impact assessment" with a broader brush.  Reality is impact is a context sensitive and cannot be measured through ratings!

Read More: Measuring Social and Economic Returns of Collective Impact Model

 

IMPACT SCORECARD

Impact Scorecard is a reporting mechanism designed to clearly communicate and track impact results by asset managers and assets.   Impact Scorecards are designed based on a theory of change with key metrics, each tracked to measure performance based on baseline, target, forecast, and actual results to ensure proper social performance.

Tools like Clear Impact allow public agencies, often healthcare organizations to create an impact scorecard.  While scorecard based reporting is useful in public agencies where regulatory reporting is important.

Benefit for Tools:

  • Easier to use 
  • Simpler Reporting
  • Useful in a public agency where regular reporting is required from different agencies

Challenges:

  • Every organization must select its own metrics
  • Data collection, management, and aggregation is not included, hence everyone has a different process 
  • Inconsistent reporting
  • Rigid reporting
  • Do not provide feedback about the outcome to the organization

Example:

  • Clear Impact: Web-based application for all things measuring and reporting.
PROGRAM DATA

SOCIAL IMPACT TOOLS FOR DATA OR PROGRAM DATA MANAGEMENT

Where does all the data you collected go? Who has access to it? How is it analyzed and shared? These crucial questions point to the need to manage all kinds of data across departments and even across organizations in the impact sector. 

  • Quickbase: Between dashboards and data reporting, this code-free application building platform gives teams the power to customize data management to fit their needs.
  • Salesforce: One of the most well-known, comprehensive services on the market, you can find nearly everything you need for data management in the Salesforce suite of products.  Many software vendors now support specialized implementation on top of Salesforce.  Many of them provide 70-30% solution.  i.e. provide 70% base functionality.  However, the reality is that you will have to ask the vendor to customize the software to fit your need.  Depending on your need, it can take anywhere from 3-12 months to customize.   Keeping in mind cost and time for implementation, you also have to account for the fact that you will be responsible for future requirements changes and maintenance to fit in future changes!
  • Sopact Impact Cloud: An end-to-end solution to impact data management needs, the solutions include features for stakeholders at any point in the spectrum, improving data accessibility and how well it can be leveraged.
  • Blackbaud: A cloud software solution with a focus on social good. Their offering of products and services for nonprofits is as comprehensive as it gets, including a dashboard designed specifically to manage the outcomes tracking of a program or organization.
  • Social Solutions: Specializes in solutions for impact-oriented organizations, large and small, and includes proprietary software with reporting and measurement tools.
  • Net Suite: The self-proclaimed #1 Cloud ERP uses more than 400,000 organizations from entry-level to C-suite executives to help manage data and internal processes. 
  • Airtable: Complete with mobile and desktop apps, this powerful platform allows for seamless cross-team data syncing in real-time. Its spreadsheet and other features are used by over 30,000 companies globally—example interface shown below.

Read More: Is collective impact model the future of social change?

M & E TOOLS

SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT - MONITORING AND EVALUATION

Monitoring and Evaluation Suites

The goal of Monitoring and Evaluation, in general, is to hold ourselves accountable to our impact goals through our data. Software suites specific to M&E needs to measure the progress and performance of an organization’s programs. Often these software suites are costly and obtained through grant funding. 

Article with an extensive list of M & E Software 

Software tools for M&E

  • ActivityInfo: Developed in collaboration with UNICEF, this software is used in over 50 countries to optimize workflows between dispersed teams and organizations.
  • DevResults: A dashboard for managing evaluation data; offers great mapping and collaboration capabilities.
  • Synergy Indicata: Monitoring and Evaluation Software: An impressive suite of features specifically for M&E processes, from the necessary dashboards and analytics to results frameworks and cross-project data collection.
  • Granity: Remote data collection and automated reporting are just a couple of the features that this software provides to facilitate good M&E results.
  • Newdea: They have a suite of free tools to help manage your impact data and streamline your social impact assessment.

Articles

Social Return On Investments

SOCIAL VALUE TOOLS - SROI TOOLS

Social Return on Investment Tools

What does the SROI tool do, and what limitations?

With the advent of impact investing, first-generation tools started with a social value-based measurement approach.  These tools are designed based on popularly known approach such as Social Return on Investment (SROI), lead by Global Value Exchange (GVE)

Challenges with SROI or Social Value Tools:

  • These tools simply allow you to provide a Social Return on Investment.
  • Often these tool requires a survey-based approach which is quite limited as it doesn't consider regular data collected in different systems.
  • Requires financial proxy, which assesses cost/benefit very subjective or research bias-based. Often designed to tilt bias, which doesn't consider the true context of impact.

Resource Tools Providers:

  • Sinzer: Offers impact data management solutions for defining metrics or using standardized metrics, collecting data, reporting, and more.
  • Sametrica: Demonstrate impact outcomes through their impact data management and reporting services.  

SoPact Impact Cloud intelligently extends SROI Solution for SROI Calculation.  Unlike other SROI tools (see the complete list here), SoPact Impact Cloud provides a complete end to end impact measurement & management solution integrated with SROI calculation.

SROI Software List: 

Complete guide or resource directory of all SROI tools

SOCIAL IMPACT ACCOUNTING

Social accounting is a comprehensive approach to manage all social, environmental, and governance results and outcomes of assets, asset managers, and asset owners.  The mission-driven organization can often use the comprehensive platform such as Impact Cloud to manage social accounting.

Social Accounting is often another interchangeable term for social impact assessment.  The readers of the social impact tracker should safely replace all the resources mentioned in this article. Impact Cloud is the most powerful user experience, comprehensive and flexible social accounting platform.  

 

Related Links

  • Social Impact