Sue Manzuik, Community Engagement Specialist at Interior Savings; Peace Selorm Jilani, Researcher at Thompson Rivers University; Carmen Rempel, Executive Director at Kelowna’s Gospel Mision; and Segun David Fatudimu, Co-Founder of Impact Toolbox and Impact and Engagement and Entrepreneur in Residence at Purppl, discussed possible paths to answering this question at the “Moving from Outputs to Outcomes: ESG and Impact Measurement” panel at Connect Money Impact 2023 in Kelowna, BC.
Each of the panelists led folks through the challenges and limitations of impact measurement approaches, shared their personal experiences, and challenged those in the sector to really consider what our impact measurement goals are and what can be done.
Challenges and Limitations
It seems everyone these days is looking for data-supported impact; staff, clients, board members, investors, funders, communities — everyone is demanding impact measurements. In some cases, impact data is actually mandated by legislation. This catapults us beyond the realm of “nice-to-have” or good practice and into the realm of “necessity.”
As a result, there is a lot of pressure on social purpose organizations to do measurement well, to clearly communicate their impact, and to move beyond measuring outputs to creating outcomes. But providing these measurements is fraught with barriers and applying this ask to all social purpose organizations is an unfair burden, especially for small organizations and local nonprofits.
People want measurement to be simple and cheap, but it’s anything but. Measuring impact is a time-consuming process and especially difficult for small teams to manage while maintaining their daily operations. Impact measurement tools can actually become larger and take longer than a social program itself, which is very troubling, as funding for programs tends to depend on reporting results. For example, grants require impact reports after one year, but often it takes three years to actually see outcomes.
To make matters worse, there’s a capacity gap for measuring impact and no standardized process within Canada. And while there is a revolution of new software coming to market, the software is hard to use.
The SDGs can’t really fill the gap either. SDGs have become communication tools instead of an impact measurement tool because they are so complex. Many companies end up using them to communicate mission alignment instead of actually measuring impact.
It’s clear that demand does not lend to simplicity. Rather, the complexities surrounding impact measurement are growing. We need to simplify and standardize, and more organizations need to get aligned on the impact measurement process. But what can we really do to make this happen?
What Is the Goal of Impact Measurement?
First things first, we need to get aligned internally on what impact means to our organization and what our outcomes should look like by asking ourselves: “What are we trying to accomplish?”
Carmen Rempel shared that Kelowna’s Gospel Mission asked themselves this question, which helped expose a lack of alignment and united vision. Six months after their managers conducted this impact measurement, their culture shifted to one of continuous learning and reflection. Kelowna’s Gospel Mission was able to identify that the goal of impact measurement for them was not applying for and winning grants but serving their people better.
When a company is aligned and understands the goal behind measuring their impact it becomes a way to answer another pivotal question: Are we winning the battle?
Best Practices and Better Ways
With unified goals in mind and a proper understanding of this difficult climate, we can start to move forward and find better ways.
Since collecting information is time-consuming, we need to prevent it from becoming unmanageable. This involves focusing on the right data and tailoring what and how we measure, which will allow us to properly zero in on the best tools and frameworks for meeting our specific needs.
There are currently 32 different impact measurement tools, and Peace Selorm Jilani and her colleagues at Thompson Rivers University found that different companies use different ones. Kelowna’s Gospel Mission shared that they use Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program for people measurement, and B.World, an impact measurement tool that uses AI to generate stories and impact reports, was also discussed.
Another tool that the panel highlighted as impactful was Common Approach, which is based on the idea of a group of people coming together and deciding on the common measurement. It starts with a mental shift and can even be quite simple.
Of course, knowing what your objective is helps you define indicators that point you in the right direction of what data you need to collect. If you collect the right data, you will be able to do the right impact measurement.
Kelowna’s Gospel Mission looks at how many sandwiches they’ve provided to the homeless, how many beds they’ve filled, and asks themselves if they are winning the fight. If not, they determine that they need to do more. Thompson Rivers University, meanwhile, does focus on a lot of metrics, but they also talk to the people behind the measurement so they can get qualitative results as well as quantitative. They also look at what the service delivered meant to the end users.
Here at Purppl, we actually put a pause on measurement and instead, Andrew Greer, our Co-Founder and Managing Director, implemented a “suck-o-meter.” We use this as a measurement of how much something sucks so we can internalize the things that are not good, identify the things that we’re doing that are not good, and address them.
One last thing to keep in mind is that software is not always the answer, and we need to understand there’s a difference between program delivery and impact — and also to help funders look at impact instead of outputs. We can do this by calling people in to chat about and share stories about the programs we offer in place of traditional reporting. Stories can have even greater power than numbers and definitively show personal impact.
By the end of the panel, we felt awareness and hope rising in equal measure. Seeing at least one of the organizations on stage being able to effectively and creatively collect data about their program for three years was encouraging. And that encouragement grew when we saw that this organization is going well beyond the traditional boundaries of a program to understand longer-term impacts.
We walked away seeing what can be done, what is being done, and understanding that all of these barriers that seem so insurmountable can be broken. And then the impact can shine through.
This is the fifth in a series of blog posts about Connect Money Impact 2023 created for Purppl by Sparx Publishing Group, a purpose-driven full-stack marketing agency on a mission to make the world better.