I once heard a funny yet suitable analogy for social entrepreneurship, which I find fits also quite well to the topic of impact measurement. Replacing social entrepreneurship with impact measurement it goes as follows: “Impact measurement is like teenage sex. Everyone talks about it, few are having it, and even fewer are actually good at it”.
The good news for impact measurement is that you can’t start too early practicing it. And with this we are already at the heart of what to expect from the blog post you are currently reading. What follows is not a listing of state of the art findings, accumulated from an in-depth analysis on the topic at hand, but three top of the mind recommendations for improving your own impact measurement activities, derived from my own engagement with the topic over the past years. So, if you are looking for answers to questions such as “What is impact?” and “How do I measure impact?”, I have to disappoint you, because there are simply not enough words available for a blog post to elaborate on these topics, without leaving the reader unsatisfied. However, to those of you looking for answers to these questions, I highly recommend to take a look at the Social Impact Navigator, published by PHINEO.
Now, let’s move to recommendation one.
Start simple and early on
Impact measurement can be a very confusing matter, and to me it gets even more confusing the further I dive into the subject. It is also a very time-consuming and therefore costly exercise, especially in the very early stage where you first have to develop your theory of change (aka logic model or impact value chain). Furthermore, the value and relevance of a sound impact strategy for the success of your organisation seems not that obvious in the early days when starting up. All of this leads many teams to procrastinate the kick-off of their impact measurement journey until the time they desperately need one, e.g. a potential investor is asking for it. Instead of letting yourself be discouraged by the complexity of impact measurement and the effort involved, you can also choose to start very simple early on. Yes, you might not cover all the relevant aspect and the data you are able to collect might technically speaking not be of any impact nature – more on the activity and output level -, but you are taking the necessary first step to get to that level later on, which leads us to recommendation two.
Measure what matters later on
It is tempting to stay with what you developed in the first place, and keep using the same metrics and collecting the same data again and again. And why shouldn’t you? You are probably getting a lot of positive feedback on your first “impact” report and your targeted audience seems to be happy with the numbers and stories you shared. However, those people will get more demanding with time and so should you. As a purpose driven venture you ultimately want to bring positive change to the lives of your target group. In order to do so you will need to monitor and measure exactly that, your impact, as otherwise you will never know where you stand and how you can increase it. This means that although to measure and report results on the activity and output level is enough to ask from yourself at an early stage, it is far from sufficient if you want to take impact measurement serious in your organisation, for the simply reason that activities and outputs themselves do not constitute change in a living being’s life. Figuratively speaking, you have to move further down to the right on your impact value chain, where you start measuring outcomes and impact itself.
Do not measure solely for the investors
As mentioned earlier, many teams tend to wait with measuring their impact until the time they are looking for serious funding from an investor or when they have to report to an existing one. Of course there is nothing wrong with recognising actual and potential investors as a target audience of impact reporting, but narrowing your focus to that one group bears the threat of missing out on important benefits of impact measurement, beyond a simply means to obtain financial capital. First of all, investors represent only one small fraction in your stakeholder landscape. Meaning, when you measure your impact you should keep all your stakeholders in mind, including you and your team. Second, and here lies in my opinion the true value of impact measurement, solid and frequently collected impact data are an essential input for strategic decision making in your organisation and they will inform you at all time if you are still on track with your venture. Therefore my third and last recommendation is, see impact measurement primarily as a strategic tool for your organisation itself, and only secondly as an outward facing communication instrument.
Take these 3 tips to your heart and you’re already on a great way to measure your impact and to inform your startup’s strategy and development. Check out the other tips for your startup in this new series.
Stefan joined Impact Hub Fellowship in Spring 2013. Before that he worked on the program side with Impact Hub Zürich, after spending one and a half year in Stockholm studying and working with SE Forum and for Impact Hub Stockholm. He holds a M.A. in International Affairs & Governance from the University...
Stefan Honegger, Global Program Manager