A lot of us use this term "impact" all the time in our work as change agents--we talk about high impact organizations, high impact funders. But what do we really mean when we talk about impact? And how do we best measure impact on the issues that matter most to us? This challenge is at the heart of our work as change agents.
Whether you are a social entrepreneur or a funder, paying attention to what you are defining as impact and how you are assessing it, is fundamental to maximizing the difference you hope to make in the world.
The video for this post walks through these ideas--here are some highlights:
The good news is that the field of international development has done lots of work thinking about how to define and assess impact. Simon Hearn and Anne Buffardi's paper "What is Impact?" is a great place to start. They review a wide variety of approaches from different agencies working in international development--11 different agencies each with a slightly different definition.
From all of this we can distill a working definition:
Impact: an outcome that can be causally linked back to a specific action or set of actions.
Here's an example:
In his book Measuring Social Impact, Alnoor Ebrahim lays out two key questions to consider when it comes to figuring out the best way to measure social impact on the issues that matter most to you, whether you're a social entrepreneur or a funder:
1. How certain are the links in your causal chain?
2. How much control do you have over the outcomes?
How you answer these questions determines which of four key approaches might be the best fit for assessing impact in your arena. And as many of us have experienced, one of the biggest sources of friction and frustration in the world of social change happens when funders and social entrepreneurs haven't given enough thought to getting on the same page in how they answer these more fundamental questions, let alone how they approach measuring impact.
It's also important to appreciate that your good intentions are not enough to guarantee a good outcome.
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These are the same materials we use with the social entrepreneurs in our accelerator program and the funders we coach one on one. The world has never been more in need of a new, greatest generation of change agents and that's why we're opening up free access to these materials to anyone who's ready to make use of them!