A new approach to measuring social impact
Oprah Winfrey once said that a new year is “another chance for us to get it right”. It’s a great attitude to have as 2018 rolls in and with all that is happening around us nowadays, there is no lack of causes we can champion or social issues we can help address.
Whether it’s rebuilding Marawi or developing low-cost housing communities, protecting women and children’s rights or providing technical and educational assistance to farmers, social sector organizations around the country are tackling some of the most difficult and complex challenges, often on very limited budgets. Like any other organization, these non-profits are expected to have metrics in place that staff, funders and constituents alike can rely on to see how helpful and effective their programs truly are.
Unfortunately, methods for monitoring, evaluation and learning in the social sector are proving unsatisfactory. Monitor Institute by Deloitte, a team focused on serving foundations and non-profits by providing extensive measurement expertise, looked at the issues surrounding evaluation practices in an effort to help these organizations make better use of data.
One of the key difficulties with monitoring and evaluation is the inability to integrate the findings into concrete decisions about strategy. Social entrepreneurs also complain about having to capture data that don’t really serve the purpose of their programs.
After conducting several interviews with participants within and outside the social sector, Monitor Institute identified three characteristics that could lead to better outcomes for monitoring, evaluation, and learning: purpose, perspective, and alignment with other actors.
Purpose is about the “why” of monitoring, evaluation and learning. Measure those variables that will help inform better strategic, operational and portfolio decisions. If, say, you run a feeding program and you notice a significant increase in the number of meals you are able to serve from one month to the next, does that necessarily mean your program is performing better? Or could that mean that there is an increasing number of undernourished individuals in the community you serve? Would that change the way you run your program?
Perspective speaks to the “who” of measurement and evaluation. When you assess your program, do you get feedback from just your staff or do you involve the constituents as well and ask them what impact the program has had on them? It is also important to consider who benefits from and controls the collected data. Organizations that look at constituents as active participants, rather than passive recipients, benefit from the insight of the actual community members. Not only does this approach promote inclusion, it also empowers the constituents who likely have strong ideas about what a “successful” program looks like.
One of the organizations that Monitor Institute interviewed for its research talked about a family it was helping: a mom with three kids who weren’t doing well in school. Off the bat, you might think that the children need an education intervention, maybe an after-school program that puts them in touch with a tutor. But when the organization talked to the mother, she said what she really needs is a car. One of her kids has asthma and when that child has an attack, she is unable to accompany the other kids to school on the public bus. As a result, the kids missed several school days and fell behind on their school work.
The non-profit helped the mom get funding to buy a car. This allowed the mom to get faster medical treatment for her child and to drive the other kids to school. With fewer missed days, all the kids eventually pulled their grades up and the mom was even able to get a better-paying job.
This success story, when put together with other wins and mined for patterns and lessons, will enable organizations to more productively learn at scale. Alignment with other actors is needed to do that. To better address the complex social and environmental problems of the day, organizations – i.e., non-profits, businesses, even government – need to band together, share data and learn from each other’s experiences and failures.
One non-profit that participated in the Monitor Institute research is already doing this, albeit in a smaller scale. The organization’s goal is to help families help themselves out of poverty. It set up a technology platform that collects data about families’ finances and their assets. It then aggregates that data and shares it with the constituents so that they can get an idea about what’s working – and what’s not – for other families. One family, for example, can use the data to draw up a money-saving plan for the eventual purchase of a home. The organization also allows constituents to get in touch with other families who have already achieved what they’re still aiming for to facilitate learning.
Monitor Institute’s full report (which can be accessed for free here: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/monitor-institute/articles/re-imagining-measurement-strategic-learning-toolkit.html) offers several ideas and approaches for improving social sector measurement. For anyone who is already involved in social work or would like to be a part of that sector, it might be worth a read as a new year begins. There is so much at stake in social work, so much so that even as we want to do good, we have to make sure we are also doing it right.
The author is the Managing Partner & CEO of Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd. – a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited – comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.