To work in social impact is to be confused about how to most effectively measure the impact of the work you do. Impact measurement, sometimes referred to as monitoring and evaluation, is a hotly debated topic (later we’ll clarify the difference between the two).
Stanford Social Innovation Review and NextBillion, two of the preeminent thought leaders in social impact, have each published over 70 articles on this topic in the last few years alone. SSIR goes so far as to reject the concept completely in one of its popular articles, Ten Reasons Not to Measure Impact—and What to Do Instead. It’s a concept we’re trying to collectively clarify as a sector, and there are plenty of individuals and social enterprises dedicated to solving this puzzle as well - attend any conference on social impact, and you’ll see no shortage of talks covering tools, platforms, and frameworks to help make sense of measuring impact. In just the past 3 years, a flurry of startups like Sopact, 60 Decibels, and Proof of Impact, have all launched and grown quickly by offering solutions to the often onerous – and expensive – job of impact measurement.
While the value of data is undeniable, many also acknowledge that sometimes the emphasis on metrics goes too far. A common critique of the Gates Foundation is its obsession with measurement almost to the point of ridiculousness, which Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post characterizes by reporting, “If this tells us anything, it is that the obsession with measurement and data in school reform has reached new nutty heights.” The irreverent and insightful Nonprofit AF blog has also had plenty to say about the shortcomings of impact measurement in its current form, publishing articles including How the concept of effectiveness has screwed nonprofits and the people we serve and Why Impact-Per-Dollar is a terrible, harmful way to measure nonprofit effectiveness.
For those of us working in social impact, it can be hard to figure out how to meaningfully measure the impact of the work we do. In this guide, we’re going to help demystify the concept of impact measurement by breaking down the following:
Looking for a template for implementing measurement for your social enterprise? Skip to section 11