Measuring social impact: What gets measured, gets valued

measurement tape and bar graph_scaledMeasuring an organization’s social performance helps the business and its stakeholders to understand and recognize the positive social change they collectively create. Social impact is the net effect of an activity on the well‐being of individuals, families, communities and the environment. This, in turn, affects an organization’s license to operate, improve the business, or support product and service innovation. Measuring social impact helps organizations understand this dynamic.

Are organizations making a difference? Are they investing their resources in worthy causes? If yes, then what’s the nature of the impact? Who is being affected, and how efficiently is that impact being delivered?

Complex problems, programs, and tools

It is often very difficult to answer these questions, and the pressure to provide data and indicators highlights many problems:

  • Practitioners often resort to using metrics and tools that provide no meaningful or actionable information.
  • One of the key challenges in measuring social impact is the need for better clarity on mission. Missions are often expressed in a way that makes measuring social impact difficult.
  • Organizations often use anecdotes as measures of success or for reporting purposes.
  • Desired data is often difficult to capture fairly and objectively.
  • Quantitative indicators sometimes fail to capture important qualitative aspects of a social impact program.

Practitioners need effective social impact measurement tools to generate value for stakeholders, mobilize greater capital, and increase transparency and accountability. However, there are so many diverse tools, methodologies, scores and algorithms that it is difficult to choose among them.

Adding to the complexity is that evaluation can be short- or long-term, ranging from monthly or yearly. Moreover, impact measurement terminology is often defined differently by different organizations. Here are some of the most commonly used terms:

  • Input: The resources used in delivery of the intervention.
  • Activity: How those those resources are used.
  • Output: How the activity touches the intended beneficiaries.
  • Outcome: The change arising in the lives of beneficiaries and others.
  • Impact: The extent to which social change arises from the intervention.

A structure for social impact measurement

There are several principal techniques used to evaluate social impact programs.

See them now at Carma’s Measurement Standard blog.

This article by Sarab Kochhar, Ph.D., director of research at the Institute for Public Relations, originally appeared on Carma’s Measurement Standard blog. 

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