21 Mar 2014

Improve your social impact measurement in three (easy) steps

By Lily

A guest blog by Marina Svistak from New Philanthropy Capital.

Lily from Bethnal Green Ventures asked me to speak about impact measurement to a group of social tech entrepreneurs last week. Impact measurement takes weeks and months to get right. It’s a process of constant head-scratching and tweaking. And there I was with just five minutes – a challenge I relished.

So here it is in three (simplified) steps.

Step 1. Engage with different stakeholders—your staff, the board, direct and indirect beneficiaries. This will encourage a holistic impact overview and ensure you don’t miss anything important. Indirect beneficiaries could be community members or the family members of your direct beneficiaries. Invite them for a coffee to hear their thoughts. You may be exhausted after a few hours of discussion but I guarantee you will learn lots of useful information about your impact—the best platform to build on.

There is a hidden benefit here too. We call it the “Ikea effect”. By engaging others in the process, you share ownership of it which helps to keep them engaged. Don’t carry the weight of impact measurement all by yourself—share it.

Step 2. Identify and measure your short and medium-term outcomes. Imagine you are on the ground floor and want to get to the top. The ground floor represents your activities, and the top floor your final goal. It would be impossible to reach the top floor in one giant leap. It’s far more sensible to take stairs, isn’t it?

The stairs and the floors in between are your short- and medium-term outcomes (often referred to as intermediate). By measuring these, you can show progress towards your final goal. At NPC, we help charities unpack these intermediate outcomes by using a Theory of Change model, which explains the flow between activities > intermediate outcomes > final goal. You can find guidance on this here, and there is a whole website dedicated to it.

Step 3. Use a variety of tools to capture data. A survey is a good way to tell what change is happening, while an interview can explain why that change is happening. You need both to estimate your impact. I would love to see 2-in-1 tools in the future, enabled by technology, but for the time being we have to rely on several.

The Better Evaluation website explains different approaches to data collection. If you are looking for a survey, start with The Survey Question Bank. It gives free access to validated surveys covering different topics from crime to environment to well-being. Inspiring Impact is a programme that aims to change the way the UK voluntary sector thinks about impact by also providing access to free resources. It’s publishing two new tools in the summer—a bank of measurement tools for the non-profit sector, and a diagnostic tool to help you assess how to improve your impact. So look out for those.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive—but it will provide a springboard into impact measurement. Good luck and shout if you’ve got questions.