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Get started with impact measurement

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Get started with impact measurement

Written by Rebecca Cain | 17th June 2020

People all around the world have been using their time in coronavirus lockdown for personal and professional development and, in a small way, I’ve been at the coalface of this having received requests for virtual coffees and advice on how to get started in impact measurement. This got me thinking about what more I can do to support interested and enthusiastic people to join the impact measurement profession.

So, in addition to sharing my tips on how to get started with impact measurement in this article, I invite you to get in touch with me at rebecca@thinkimpact.com.au if you have other questions.

Learn the theory

Nothing will fast track your development like attending training, much like my frustrated attempts at crocheting. For months I was trying to teach myself using YouTube clips, but it wasn’t until I did a half day crochet workshop that I finally got my head around it. And now that I know the basics, I’m actually able to make sense out of the huge volume of resources online.

I recommend attending Think Impact’s Social Return on Investment (SROI) Accredited Practitioner Training that I’ll be delivering online over 4 half day sessions in October, 2020 as follows:

Learners attend all 4 of the following sessions:

  • Wednesday 7 October, 1–5pm
  • Tuesday 13 October, 1–5pm
  • Friday 16 October, 1–5pm
  • Wednesday 21 October, 1–5pm

Visit the link above for more details on what the course involves and to access early bird rates available until the 31 August.

SROI is an internationally recognised approach for understanding and measuring the impacts of a program, organisation or policy. Through engaging with stakeholders, it is possible to identify the social, environmental and economic impacts generated, and place a financial value on this impact. Even if you don’t plan to conduct an SROI yourself, the training covers the core components of impact measurement including theory of change and measuring outcomes.

If you want to get started sooner, Social Value International is offering SROI training online. They are based in the UK but they have options for different time zones.

While I haven’t done any myself, free online courses like Acumen’s Social Impact Analysis (next running in September 2020) might get you started with the basics.

And if training isn’t an option for you, here’s some additions for your reading list:

See it in practice

When I started as a Social Impact Consultant, one of my first projects was working on an SROI. If I’m being honest, even after reading the Guide to SROI, I still had no idea what I was in for. It was only after reading a few SROI reports that the lightbulb went off. So while the theory is really important, you may need to see impact measurement in practice to be able to make sense of the concepts and the jargon.

Here’s a few examples of reports and surveys on a range of different topics:

  • The Community Housing Industry Association Social Outcomes Framework is a simple impact measurement solution. I recommend looking at the survey as an example of what impact measurement looks like in practice.
  • The Victorian Community Legal Sector Outcomes Measurement Framework is a great example of well-structured framework with supporting surveys. Kudos to Lirata Consulting for their inspiring work!
  • This SROI of the housing and care provided by the Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria is a great example of how to present impact measurement results in a visually engaging way.
  • Check out both the summary and full report of the SROI of housing provided by Women’s Property Initiatives. This SROI was independently assured by Social Value International and was awarded the Excellence in Social Impact Measurement Award at the Social Impact Measurement Network Australia (SIMNA) national conference in May 2017.

The challenge when you’re getting started is to be able to recognise good quality impact measurement. Anyone can claim their work is an impact report or an SROI, so don’t assume it’s a good approach just because someone else has done it that way. Be patient and your ability to spot quality will improve over time.

Skill up

The day-to-day reality of social impact measurement relies on a few core skills, so upskilling in these areas can be useful:

  • Qualitative research including interviewing, group facilitation and case study research
  • Quantitative research such as survey design
  • Desktop research to identify existing evidence and practice
  • Data analytics and visualisation
  • Conceptual modelling and representation for things like theory of change and systems mapping
  • Excel modelling.

Just do it!

Like so many things in life, the best way to learn social impact measurement is to do it. There is a lot of subjectivity and judgement involved, so the more you do it the more experience you have to draw on to make good subjective decisions.

The best places to start are:

  • Develop a theory of change or program logic for your organisation or a program (or even your role, a volunteer program you are involved in, or your life!). Developing a clear theory of change or program logic is the foundation for impact measurement – the things you identify in them are what you would measure and manage. New Philanthropy Capital’s Theory of change in ten stepsprovides a good process.
  • Look at the existing information you collect and see whether it provides data or stories on your impact. There are some simple questions that you could ask about impact, without necessarily needing to do any major modifications. Questions like ‘What do you think would have happened without the services?’ and ‘What are the lasting changes for you as a result of the services?’
  • Even conversations with friends about their relationships, jobs, study, parenting and travelling experiences are all opportunities to experiment with impact measurement. ‘What’s different for you as a result of that?’, ‘What does that decision tell us about the value you place on that?’ and ‘What was it that caused that change?’. Your friends might even compliment you on your active listening skills!

Follow emerging practice

Here’s a few suggestions to learn about emerging practice:

Be part of the community

Social impact measurement is a very young profession that needs its practitioners to come together to share, learn and improve our practice over time. The Social Impact Measurement Network Australia (SIMNA) brings together established and emerging social impact professionals. SIMNA membership also provides a connection to the global impact measurement profession via Social Value International.