Does our work really lead to change? Measuring social impact

Camaleo / Impact measurement  / Does our work really lead to change? Measuring social impact
Impact measurement

How many people did we train? How many trees did we plant? How many mosquito nets did we distribute?

We are used to the need for basic accountability and to writing reports about results and short-term objectives to our donors.  However, these indicators alone aren’t enough to assess whether our work is really contributing to our organisation’s objectives: To what extent did we REALLY change lives of people and communities? What part of the increase in their quality of life is due to our projects? And a really daring question: Is what we do really useful?

We will only be able to answer these questions if we are able to measure our impact.

The impact is the print we leave, what remains after the end of a project or programme, but also what justifies our mere existence as an organisation. Measuring it allows us to redirect our work if needed, leaving behind what isn’t needed to leave this print, and focusing on what is.

To be completely honest, there is also a more pragmatic reason to measure our impact. Donors show an increasing interest for greater accountability regarding the money they spend on our projects: they want evidence that they’re making a difference. Maintaining clear and systemized information about it is a huge competitive asset and greatly improves our organisation’s image and positioning.

Here are some tips to start planning with your mind set on impact.


Clarifying concepts

First, we need to be clear about the following different concepts:

  • Inputs are those resources that we use to implement the project. For example, human resources, vehicles, equipment, etc.
  • Activities are actions that the staff members implement in order to achieve the project objectives.
  • Outputs are the direct immediate term results; what the project has achieved in the short term, a direct consequence of activities.
  • Outcomes are directly related to the project goals, and refer to the medium-term consequences of the project.
  • Impact is the long term consequence of a project, the changes that can be attributed to an intervention, whether intended or unintended.

 Impact measurementExample of the different concepts for a fictitious programme, and how they relate together

A few tips to measure and show impact

  • We have to be clear, before designing a programme, about what we want to obtain with our intervention. We should invest some time clarifying our organisation’s long-term objectives: What life changes will we try to bring to the people or communities we work with?
  • Invest some time implementing a Baseline Survey (basically, measuring the situation before the beginning of your project), involving different stakeholders.
  • It would be a good idea to have a control group (people that don’t benefit from your intervention), to prove that changes are really due to your project.
  • We need indicators to measure each element: outputs, but also outcomes and impact. Otherwise how will we know that we are achieving what we set out to do?
  • It is essential to involve our future beneficiaries: It isn’t realistic to measure change by ourselves.

More resources

If you would like to go further, here are some well-known methodologies for impact measurement. And remember what they say: what isn’t measured can’t be improved!

  • The London Benchmarking Group (LBG) promotes an emerging global standard for reporting community investment activities. It has been adapted to measure and manage social activities and NGO activities, as well and the outputs and impacts achieved.
  • The Most Significant Change (MSC) approach involves generating and analysing personal accounts of change and deciding which of these accounts is the most significant – and why.
  • European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) standard: A practical guide using an impact measurement standard endorsed by the European Commission as the EU-wide best practice standard of impact measurement.
  • Impact Reporting and Investment Standard (IRIS) is an initiative of the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), a non-profit organisation dedicated to increasing the scale and effectiveness of impact investing. IRIS metrics are designed to measure the social, environmental and financial performance of an investment.


What about you? Which methodology do you use in your organisation?

Note: This article was originally published in a slightly modified version on Well Grounded‘s blog

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