How to create your own solution to social impact measurement?

Posted on the 20th June 2019

I’ve been there! You are the social impact lead, a.k.a. the only person who has the capacity or is willing to go over and above to deliver this new initiative! You need to find a social impact solution quickly.

So you sit down and do some of the following, in no particular order, over a couple of weeks:

  • google some keywords
  • look at some software solutions
  • attend some webinars
  • talk to people in your network

At the end of it, you think that none of it really relates directly to what you need or what you are looking to achieve from impact measurement.

You decide you can do it better!

Maybe you can, but I’m going to suggest that even if you succeed in creating the perfect solution to your impact measurement dilemmas, you could have saved time and a whole lot of learning from your mistakes by building on the expertise of others.

What are the risks of going it alone:

  • Scenario 1: You develop your theory of change, a clear set of outcomes, design your own in-house bespoke indicators and a year later the data is showing no change or negative change.
  • Problem 1: Now your issue here is that you don’t question straight away if there is an issue with your intervention, because the first thing which will come under scrutiny is your untested impact measurement solution.
  • Scenario 2: You develop your theory of change, a clear set of outcomes, design your in-house bespoke indicators and a year later your results are amazing. You report the results to your stakeholders.
  • Problem 2: Their first question will be either, how does that compare to other similar interventions or how valid are the indicators used to evaluate our impact?
  • Scenario 3: You develop your theory of change, a clear set of outcomes, base your indicators on external federal and state government validated statistics and a year later compare results for your outcomes against government statistics.
  • Problem 3: You work with small numbers of people, who are a tiny subset of the people living in the statistical boundaries used by federal and state governments. It’s really difficult to understand if your results are meaningful for many reasons, including how representative demographically are the people you worked with. Another major issue is that a lot of these statistics are averages or medians for large areas where a diverse range of people live, so your targeted sub-group within this area get lost in the data of averages and medians on this geographic scale.

These are just some of the scenarios where you can run into challenges and let’s just say I have found myself in all of them during my career.

What is the ultimate solution to impact measurement?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the ultimate solution to impact measurement doesn’t exist!

There are however some key attributes which you should be looking for in an impact measurement solution:

  1. Simplicity: the solution you design or adopt needs to be simple enough that it is going to succeed. This means it needs to convince your internal teams that it will not add a major burden resource wise, those who need to measure impact should be able to be fully competent to use the solution in a relatively short time-frame, and finally, if you leave or get promoted, the solution needs to be easily picked up by your successor
  2. Consistency: It needs to be using a consistent methodology, set of principles and assumptions, so you have consistency across all impact measurement activities your organisation undertakes. Comparability is not possible if there is no consistency.
  3. Clarity: The solution needs to provide a clear understanding of how it measures your social impact. Ideally, you want it to be adopting national and international best practice, guidelines and policies.
  4. Transparency: The solution needs to be transparent in how it measures social value. It needs to stand up to stakeholder scrutiny and make it easy for stakeholders to understand each part of the solution and how the reported impact was measured.

The good news is that progress is being made to create better and more widely adopted solutions to impact measurement.

Global Initiative for Consensus on How to Measure and Manage Impact

There is currently a global project underway to create a set of standards and principles for the measurement of social value. The Australian Social Value Bank (ASVB) is a member of Social Value International (SVI) who are part of this global initiative, Impact Management Project, who are building a consensus on how to measure and manage impact.

We recently published “Social Value International, The Australian Social Value Bank and the Social Value Principles – Linkage Paper” (2019) which outlines how the ASVB aligns to SVI’s current global set of Social Impact Principles.

Andrew Callaghan is the ASVB Impact Specialist and writes about his experiences in measuring impact and social value.


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