There are many vendors classify themselves as impact measurement systems. However, please note that there are significant differences
Impact Rating & Benchmarking
B-Analytics, B-Assessment ≠ (not equal) Social Impact Measurement
First generation impact assessment platforms focuses on gathering governance, environment 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 Microfiance 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 measurement" with a broader brush. Reality is impact is a context sensitive and cannot be measured through ratings!
Self Reporting & Impact Reporting
Tools like Clear Impact allow public agencies to create impact scorecard. While scorecard based reporting is useful in public agencies where regulatory reporting is important, their value is quite limited. Fundamentally, social impact should be driven and managed throughout program life cycle through well defined theory of change or logic model. Tools like Clear Impact requires you to define your own custom metrics and do self-reporting. Unfortunately, reporting organization can use any data collection system, making it difficult to audit-able with limited integrity and limited impact context. Non existent data management do not allow organization to learn results (feedback or lean data approach). Finally reporting for system is quite limited.
Customization Based Systems
Many legacy custom applications require software vendors to modify business objects. Hence, the user has to rely on the software vendor to customize the code based on a programmatic approach. .NET, Java or legacy client/server application fall into this category.
Cloud Platform such as Salesforce/.NET
While systems like Salesforce CRM has the capability to configure, each Salesforce instance must be configured by expensive Salesforce developers (either in-house or by external consultant). For example, if you want to upgrade from IRIS 4.0 to IRIS 5.0, you must rebuild your metrics catalog. There are advance services possible but building truly user configurable system that is flexible takes a lot of effort. Most social sector organizations do not have capacity to build such a software or maintain on going change in requirements.
Most organizations often large foundations starts their process with Salesforce. Many of these organization have IT departments that are not well aligned with program or impact evaluation teams. While programs team often have a well defined requirements, IT team often clashes with them as they end up managing systems in the organization. Challenge here is they try to build impact measurement like systems into CRM like platforms like Salesforce. While Salesforce through 1-1-1 makes easier for nonprofits to start on CRM or donation management journey. Unfortunately, there are many organizations who have been working with Salesforce take a long time with often unused system. Reason is that impact measurement is quite context specific and dynamic. True impact measurement system requires, immense amount of flexibility that is theory of change driven, allows rapid integration of data collection of any kind, flexible qualitative and quantitative data collection and reporting. Such a system takes a long time and most social sector organization simply do not have enough resources, skills and alignment between IT department and program management team.
Social Data Solutions company like Vera Solutions provide customized Impact Measurement Tool. However, while they start with a packaged approach, reality is that every organization's theory of change, indicators, data collection, impact storytelling and learning and impact reporting are quite unique. Things that you should consider before evaluating such systems are
- What is a total cost of ownership (cost of subscription + upgrades + maintenance)
- Will system be flexible to meet different grantee or investee requirements which will undoubtably change over the time? How will you make changes?
- Will you get all the list of features in a comprehensive package?
- How long will it take to deploy?
- What's a training time and cost?
Configuration Driven ≠ (not equal) Customization
Beware of system that requires customizations.
Impact Cloud - Impact Maker is designed in such as way that any user can configure business rules without any technical knowledge. It is at least 10 times faster to implement than Salesforce and easier to maintain.
Best Impact Measurement System must have....
SoPact leaders with 30+ years in technology such as software integration, understands all modern and legacy systems and fully understand ground reality of social sector data management needs, data culture and need to align between impact funders and impact makers (program organizations such as businesses, social enterprises and nonprofits)
Key Ingredient of Best Impact Measurement & Management Systems are:
- Easy to use
- Rapid deployment with easy to configure as rules or metrics changes
- Theory of Change driven
- Flexible enough to adopt each organization use of standards, framework and tools
- Work well with any types of data collection tool that enterprise and nonprofits uses
- Simplifies data aggregation and unlock value and story of data