- Written by Alexis Nadin Banks
Our recent Measuring Social Impact programme brought together South African organisations to explore the benefits of measuring social impact. Although evidence shows that organisations make more informed decisions using impact assessment, competing priorities make it difficult to carry out.
Through research conducted with South African social enterprises, the following seven steps have been identified to help your organisation leverage assessment to improve your impact:
1. Put a strong Theory of Change at the centre of your organisation.
As Laura Bergh at Poverty Stoplight explains, "You cannot build an impact framework unless you know really well what your theory of change* is." By creating a solid theory of change, you establish a clear vision of success that informs other impact decisions.
2. Perpetuate a culture of learning.
Be ready to embrace learning not only in your impact assessment, but also as you make organisational improvements, allocate scare resources and increase your impact. A culture of learning starts with courageous and visionary leadership, but also requires commitment from the entire team.
Tracey Chambers, the Co-Founder of The Clothing Bank explains, "You’ve got to be really open to learning... You’ve got to be able to look in the mirror, stare the results down and say okay, right, we’ve got a problem. What are we going to do about it?"
3. Invest in impact assessment.
Make the conscious decision to invest in measurement and seek solutions to resource limitations. The Social Project has solicited funding to exclusively finance its monitoring and evaluation, while Fix Forward and Shonaquip have created income generating activities that give them the freedom to allocate resources to social impact measurement.
4. Establish support from stakeholders.
Develop assessment frameworks and indicators in collaboration with beneficiaries, staff, partners, funders and other community stakeholders. When possible, use assessment to enhance the beneficiary's experience through client goal setting, dialogue and progress.
5. Use testing to identify the best method for your organisation.
Bretta Rivera at The Social Project knows that it takes time to find the right assessment approach. She explains, "we're going to have to put something in, test it, see where we go, tweak it, change it, maybe throw it out completely start again...Those kind of things require testing and learning along the way."
Develop a tool that best aligns with your needs and contributes to a process of ongoing reflection, learning and improved decision making. Remember, you don't have to start from scratch. There are hundreds of impact assessment approaches, tools, and frameworks to reference. Using the mixed methods approach, adapt an existing framework to fit the mission of your organisation.
6. Grow organisational capacity for impact assessment.
Organisations are more likely to carry out effective impact assessments when staff have the training, skills, and know-how to measure impact. Build organisational capacity through ongoing training and collaboration with like-minded organisations.
7. Integrate assessment and learning into your systems and processes.
Begin by incorporating assessment into the planning and budgeting process and continue by developing formalised systems. Crucially, learning should also be integrated into organisational routines, perhaps through regular staff reflection activities or an ongoing organisational learning log.
As this research demonstrates when staff have access to assessment results, as well as time and space to reflect and learn, real change can occur!
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