Impact assessment, performance metrics, social impact – these terms are gaining increasing traction in the social entrepreneurship sector, specifically in the context of sustainability and effectiveness. In the session entitled, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, What’s the IMPACT of This All?”, covered by the Acumen Fund blog, panelists discussed the purpose of impact assessment, asking critical questions such as:
Who are the real audiences for impact assessment efforts? Who really cares and is it worth the bother? What happens in practice when social entrepreneurs are systematic about measuring impact? How does this lead to organisational learning, increased impact and innovation, or to greater resource mobilisation?
In response to these questions, Dean of the Rotman School of Management established a framework for impact assessment with the the following three P’s: “positive, precision, and pluralist.” (more after the jump)
First, “positive” (don’t measure unnecessarily – ask what, how, why first):
All five of us agreed that you should not measure if it does not add (positive) value. Too much time and energy is wasted on evaluations that don’t add real insight and distract from program execution.
Second, “precision” (broad v. narrow focus and the incumbent need for precision):
The field needs to be very careful about impact measures that require careful framing, controlled research and counterfactuals, versus measures of outputs (number of houses built, liters of clean water sold). A narrow focus on outputs, however, can shift the focus from the measurement of broader, system -wide change we are seeking to have. Then again, one needs to think with precision about what systems our programs are seeking to change and how.
Finally, “pluralist” (no program assessment is complete without participation from the target community):
Metrics need to account for the voices of the voiceless. As David Bonbright argued, measurement systems need to allow for the recipients of programs or services to be part of the feedback loop.