Ten simple steps to measure your Impact
3 March 2016 - Nicolo' Bertolini

Ten simple steps to measure your impact.

Social enterprises aim to have an impact on society or the environment. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning!

But understanding your impact and reporting the results not always an easy task. There are so many variables that can be taken into account, and collecting the information is not always easy. So on 19th January we asked Heather Black, Managing Director at Economic Change, to give us a taste of best practice in impact measurement.

Economic Change provides management solutions to help organisations improve their efficiency, sustainability and socio-economic impact. Their services, business development strategy, setting up management systems and social impact measurement, are aimed for different kinds of organisations, from charities to social enterprises, from educational bodies to ethical businesses.

Here are ten simple steps that she shared with us to get clarity on what social impact means for your organization and find ways of capturing and monitoring data.

1) What is your reason for measuring social impact?

Every business, whether it defines itself as a social enterprise or not, has reason to engage with its social impact. It affects customer and team satisfaction, how you deliver your core business and communicate what you do. It can be a central aspect of your quality control and influence where you invest resources.

The ISO 26000 standard covers a huge range of social responsibility and stakeholder engagement issues that are worth examining to help you clarify what your own motivations and commitments are.

2) Define the Cause

A cause is a social, environmental or economic issue that needs to be tackled to improve well-being amongst the population or world. By defining our cause we can be clear about the problem we are solving, identify statistical evidence or undertake our own research that can help our measurement and then use these statistics are benchmarks for our success.

For example, our maths project may find statistics about low levels of maths achievement at GCSE level as a baseline for its impact measurement.

Some useful sources of statistics in the UK are the National Measures of National Well-Being or the National Office of Statistics – Neighbourhood Statistics.

3) Describing your Aim

The Aim of your organization is an explanation of your vision and overall change you want to achieve. Couch it in one sentence which captures the issue, the outcome, the target audience and the timeframe.

4) Define your stakeholders

All the stakeholders who interact with your company can be classified by the impact you want to have on them. Beneficiaries and clients, backers, team members and volunteers are but a few. How do you prioritise your impact between each of them?

5) Setting your Objectives.

What activities are you planning to deliver to tackle the problems you’ve already identified? For example, are you starting after school clubs, training parents to support their children or producing online materials?

6) Define the Scale of Intervention

Translate your objectives into quantitative targets, called outputs. Outputs tell you whether you delivered against your plan. For example, how many young people attended your after school clubs? How many parents did you train? How many resources were downloaded from your website?

7) Measuring change

What is the outcome of these outputs? Outcomes describe the impact and/or change in a situation as a result of the activity and show how the organization is achieving its aim and tackling the cause.

For example, young people feeling more confident in their understanding of maths as a result of mentoring would be a short term outcome, whilst getting improved GCSE results in maths would be a long term outcome. Outcomes are linked to changes achieved for the stakeholder, as opposed to outputs which are activities stakeholders are engaged on.

Some of the outcomes that your project may generate may not be immediately obvious, but can be powerful, nonetheless. Social return on investment (SROI) or cost-benefit analysis may help you or your funders understand the financial value of your work.

For example, are you reducing the number of people claiming benefits, improving the economy (via increased education levels) or improving the quality of life off your beneficiaries. All of these example can have financial benefits attached to them. Some sources of indicators include:

8) Capturing your impact

Once the aim, the cause, objectives, output and outcomes are defined, you need to plan the way to get data, both quantitative and qualitative, from your stakeholders.

To capture a change, you need to measure baseline information at the start of the project and measure/analyse data at regular periods after that. There are many possible ways to gain relevant data, from primary methods, as questionnaires, interviews or focus groups, to secondary data such as industry reports. It is also worth capturing a mixture of quantitative (e.g. statistics, numerical outcomes) and qualitative (e.g. case studies and verbal feedback from participants) data.

9) Evaluating data

To truly evaluate your impact you need to understand the real effect your activity on your beneficiaries. An effort to strip out the changes which could have happened anyway and the changes which can be attributed to others makes your evaluation more accurate. Also, ensuring that you capture any negative consequences or displacement of problems elsewhere means your evaluation gives a truer picture of the reality.

NESTA publishes ‘Five Standards of Evidence’, from level 1 where you explain what your programme does and how it has an impact, up to fully independent and rigorous evaluation of a scaled up prorgramme with economic and fidelity evaluations at level 5.

10) Applying your impact data

Ideally, you should represent your data graphically as it makes understanding and reporting more effective. You can also use infographics, independent reports, videos, websites, annual report and press releases as ways to spread the key messages.

The results of the research can be applied to different purpose: quality standard marks, campaigning, continual improvement process and cause related marketing as well as communicating to stakeholders, funders, beneficiaries and internally to improve your programme.

A proper final report on the social impact demonstrates your awareness of your effectiveness and allows you to focus on how to achieve the results you really want.