Image of data being analysed

There’s no Magic Way of Measuring Impact

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way of measuring your social impact across multiple projects using a single dependable statistic? Well, I’ve got some bad news, and some good.

I was recently talking to a charity who wanted to know how if they could go about measuring and reporting the overall impact of the organisation on children and families. With multiple strands each aiming to achieve different things, they asked if a single outcome measure – one accurate, reliable number – to sum up the impact of the whole organisation was either possible or desirable.

First, here’s the bad news: it’s very unlikely – I might even be so bold as to say impossible – that any such thing exists. You might think you’ve found one that works but when you put in front of a critic (or a nitpicking critical friend, like me) it will probably get ripped apart in seconds.

Of course, if there is a measure that works across multiple projects, even if not all of them, you should use it, but don’t be tempted to shoehorn other projects into that same framework.

It’s true that measuring impact requires compromise but an arbitrary measure, or one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, is the wrong compromise to make.

The Good News

There is, however, a compromise that can work, and that is having the confidence to aggregate upwards knowing your project level data are sound. You might say, for example, that together your projects improved outcomes for 10,000 families, and then give a single example from an individual project that improved service access or well-being to support the claim. In most situations that will be more meaningful than any contrived, supposedly universal measure of impact.

Confidence is the key, though: for this to work you need to find a reliable way of measuring and expressing the success of each individual project, and have ready in reserve information robust enough to hold up to scrutiny.

Measuring Means Data

In conclusion, the underlying solution to the challenge of measuring impact, and communicating it, is a foundation of good project level data. That will also make it easier to improve performance and give you more room to manoeuvre. Placing your faith in a single measure, even if you can decide upon one, could leave you vulnerable in a shifting landscape.

 

Influence through Data

“Yeah, Says Who?” – Influence Through Data

You know you’ve achieved results – the data tells you so – but how do you influence sceptics to believe it?

It can be a rude awakening to take the findings of a study outside your own team or organisation, where trust and mutual support are more or less a given. In front of a wider audience of funding providers or other stakeholders, you will inevitably in my experience find yourself being challenged hard.

This is as it should be – scrutiny is a key part of a healthy system – but, at the same time, it’s always a shame to see an impactful project or programme struggle purely because its operators fail to sell it effectively.

Fortunately, while there are no black-and-white rules, there are some things you can do to improve your chances.

Confidence = Influence

When I present findings I do so with a confidence that comes with experience and from really understanding the underlying mechanics. But if you’re not a specialist and don’t have that experience there are things you can do to make yourself feel more confident and thus inspire greater confidence in your audience.

First, make sure you have thought through and recorded a data management policy. Are you clear how often data should be entered? If information is missing, what will you do to fill the gaps? What are your processes for cleaning and regularising data? Is there information you don’t need to record? A professional, formalised approach to keeping timely and accurate data sends all the right signals about your competence and the underlying foundations of your work.

Secondly, use the data as often as possible, and share the analysis with those who enter your data so that they can understand its purpose, and own it. Demonstrating that your data is valued and has dedicated, accountable managers hugely increases its (and your) credibility.

Thirdly, take the initiative in checking the reliability and validity of your own tools. If you use well-being questionnaires, for example, take the time to check whether they are really measuring what you want to measure in most instances. In other words, try to find fault with your own approach before your stakeholders so that when they find a weak point you have an answer ready that not only reassures them but also underlines the objectivity with which you approach your work.

Own Your Data’s Imperfections

Finally, and this might feel counterintuitive, you should identify the weaknesses in your own data and analysis and be honest about them. All data and analysis has limitations and being clear about those, and the compromises made to work around them demonstrates objectivity which, again, reinforces credibility.

In conclusion, the better you understand your own data and analysis, flaws and all, the more comfortable and confident you will feel when it, in turn, comes under scrutiny.

Social impact webinar

Webinar: Make 2020 the Year of Social Impact

On both sides of the Atlantic, our clients are working hard to think of new ways to deliver vital services to their clients: the homeless, the refugee, offenders.  They are often the people who are most likely to be at the margins and their needs are urgent.  So, now is a time for adapting services to the weeks of lock-down and shelter in place orders. And at GtD we are adapting the ways in which we are delivering our services and helping our clients.

While we wait for the pandemic to subside, the needs of our clients and yours remain pressing, and that will continue long after CoVid19 becomes yesterday’s news. However, I doubt that we will go back to work just as we did before we heard about social distancing and self-quarantining.  When we do go back to work, we will be asked to do things in new ways, to answer new needs and to find new partners to work with.

2020 is GtD’s “Year of Social Impact” when we are encouraging non-profits and charities to think about new ways of demonstrating their social value – definitively. We started out with a roadshow of events in Atlanta and then London, meeting with leaders from the nonprofit sector, listening to their needs and telling them about how our “Measure”, “Learn” and “Prove” packages can assist them.

We were due to take the roadshow to Manchester on April 28th.  Instead, we will be delivering the event as a webinar and inviting people to attend from across the UK and the USA.  This is bound to be a fascinating meeting as we share experiences across the Atlantic and hear more about how GtD’s social impact analytics are helping non-profits on both sides of the ocean.

The webinar is free and we have made it easy to join.  To register, please use this link and learn more about how to attend.

At times like this, we need to keep going as best we can and re-evaluate our priorities. Today, I received some words of wisdom from a valued client and jazz aficionado.  He and I were talking about how best to address the needs of those who have no medical care in rural Georgia. We had to suspend some work and address the new priorities thrown up by lockdown, and so I would like to share his words with you:

“What we’ve been doing lately reminds me of an announcement Louis Armstrong made during an interruption in one of his concerts, “And while they’re fixing the mike, we are going to lay on you our very best version of ‘Tin Roof Blues’”. Getting important things done during times like these can be helpful both to our projects and to our morale”.

Jack and I hope to meet you at the webinar but please contact me on alan.mackie@gtd-us.com if you have any questions. In the meantime, we wish you all the best as you address your new priorities and redouble your efforts to serve your clients.