Assessing and demonstrating positive social change: From inputs and outputs to outcomes, impact and expert opinion (part 1/2)

Impact measurement continues to be a hot topic in the ‘for-purpose’ sector. Some mandate that impact measurement must be underpinned by robust quantitative data whilst others prefer to speak about demonstrating impact through case studies and qualitative insights. The most recent wave of impact assessment practitioners also emphasise the need of quantitative and qualitative insights to be supported by expert opinion. In recognition that impact measurement is an evolving beast that is typically difficult and complex, we’re sharing our two cents on how to gauge your positive social impact.

This blog is the first of a two-part series.

Despite an increasing acknowledgement of the need for and commitment to for-purpose sustainability initiatives by corporates, government and not-for-profits in Australia, social progress has arguably been thwarted. Why you ask? Because there hasn’t been enough of a concentrated focus on outcomes and impact.

For a long time, the collective status quo has been measuring what and how much corporates, governments and not-for-profits do and fund. Often, this means it is unclear if programs and initiatives are actually improving the lives of the people they reach. 

Now, we’re witnessing a widespread movement to identify, demonstrate and measure the tangible change and difference that for-purpose organisations or initiatives are making supported by the informed opinions of subject matter experts and industry players. We need to be clear on: what outcomes we’re trying to achieve; how we can achieve them; and if, where and why they are occurring. This will help us focus on what we want to achieve, how we go about achieving it, where we invest resources and effort and whether we are making a difference.

Why track your impact?

  • Knowing and growing the positive social change you create – Demonstrating impact makes it clear to the public, supporters, advocates, funders, leadership and employees that their initiatives and programs meet the values, missions and goals they aspire to and espouse. Having evidence of how you are achieving your aims and to what extent is paramount; this is especially true for not-for-profits and social enterprises. Positive social and environmental change can be amplified when individuals and organisations effectively map, monitor and evaluate their impact.
  • It helps communicate your good story – Transparently showcasing your impact can strengthen stakeholder relations as well as building brand equity and trust. Stakeholders such as donors, shareholders or impact investors increasingly want to see the return on their investment, whilst wider stakeholders want to know how your work is progressing social advancement. Telling a good story needs to go beyond outputs to facts and case studies that demonstrate impact. Quantitative data is typically a key means to communicate outcomes, which can be supplemented with qualitative information (e.g. testimonials and case studies) for a strong impact narrative.
  • Access to finance – Traditional funding sources, including government, have increasingly limited resources and its becoming more competitive to obtain. Individuals, shareholders and organisations want to know how their donations and investments are making a difference. For organisations seeking funding, demonstrating social impact is essential to ensure you remain competitive in discussions with government, philanthropists and corporates. For corporates, demonstrating positive impact is important to assess effectiveness and ensure the survival of impactful existing programs or initiatives.
  • Impact reporting is here to stay and will continue to gain momentum – More than ever, organisations are facing a constant need to earn and defend their license to operate. Amongst other things, this comes in response to ‘green washing’ and lip service, which has prompted shareholders and beneficiaries to demand meaningful evidence in support of impact claims. As such, and across all sectors, there is a significant move towards increased transparency around the impact an organisation is achieving…and we don’t see this going away any time soon!

This blog is the first of a two-part series so keep your eyes peeled for the next one! In the interim, we’re keen to hear your thoughts on tracking impact – have you had any spectacular successes or epic fails? You can share your learnings and bounce ideas with us by emailing info@sparkstrategy.com.au.

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