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There are a lot of people these days saying that they are helping organisations to measure or prove their social impact (disclaimer: I am one of them!). In truth it isn’t some sort of rocket science and I’ve come to realise recently that the most important thing that I can do is help organisations to get their heads around how to do it.

A slight complication in all of this is the emerging field of social investment measurement – which is focused more on the return on investment by social investors. All good I say and some interesting work is going on there. I’m not however going to focus on measuring social investment in this blog (but I will in a future blog).

It is probably worth spending a little time understanding what social impact is and what it is not. Social impact isn’t ‘doing stuff’ and counting how much of it you have done. For example: you train 30 people in something, some sort of life skill, say. That’s not impact. In truth no one really cares that 30 people have been trained in a new skill and it doesn’t answer the evaluator’s ‘so what’ question. It does tell me that you’re really good at delivering training, but nothing more.

Say you go on to ask those 30 people whether they found the training useful and what they intend to do with the training. Ok, that’s getting interesting. Some will use the buzz of just finishing the training to tell you how great it was and how much they got out of it. Great! That’s useful for you, but still doesn’t tell me about the impact. Perhaps you’re really organised and you got permission to text them and you set up a text survey three months and six months down the line from the training, and 12 people get back to you telling you that yes, some of them do still use the training, no they’ve not yet been able to pass on the skills and no, they couldn’t say how many people they have signposted to a service (for example). That’s an outcome, but it isn’t impact.

But what if 10 people got back to you six months after your training session and said that they had not only had an opportunity to signpost someone to a service, that signposting action actually changed that person’s life. And they have rolled out the training to the rest of those ten organisations and others in the organisation are reporting the same results. Bingo! That’s impact.

In other words, impact is when someone takes the work that you have done (activities and outputs) and uses it to fundamentally change not only their own way of working (outcomes like living, growing food, accessing education, accessing employment, etc) but positively affects other people that you have never met or had any influence over.

Ok, so how can you know that this is happening? Do this:

  1. Plan your work (stuff / activities / intervention) with the group that you want to influence. That way they are more likely to want to engage with the work;
  2. Plan to measure both the activity and the outputs (mostly quantitative measurements);
  3. Engage the people you work with and for in a community of sorts (online, social media, physical) and develop that relationship over time based on follow up from the activity (support);
  4. Ask your community 6 months, 12 months down the line about what has changed for them. Encourage them to share stories and photos, etc. That way you will be gathering qualitative data all the time from an engaged group; and
  5. Use the quantitative and qualitative data to understand whether the impact that you have had is the impact that you planned to deliver.

This might seem a little simplistic, and there are many other layers that can be added to the process for all sorts of reasons, but start here and see how your ability to understand your impact changes and grows!


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