As some of you may be aware there is a lot of discussion about impact measurement going on in the nonprofit sector at the moment. There is no doubt that if you want to retain or gain any of the reducing amounts of public subsidy being able to demonstrate impact is becoming a core issue. Like Richard Piper (although he talks of outcomes rather than impact) I take the view that it should be embedded in an organisation in terms of asking the central question – ‘ what difference do we want to make in the world?’- it shouldn’t be seen as something purely externally imposed.
I recently came across the New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) report ‘A Journey to Greater Impact,’ that features six charities and their attempts to improve their impact measurement. NPC states that in featuring these case studies they are not promoting ‘ideal best practice’ rather they are featuring ‘real good practice’ and while this might seem like a semantic point it is important. For me it is about taking a pragmatic rather than an idealised view. They describe these examples as Bright Spots an approach developed in Switch by Dan & Chip Heath; if you haven’t read the book I can thoroughly recommend it.
There is much to consider in the report that I may well cover in future blogs but the aspect I want to look at here is the assertion that there should be more ‘off the shelf’ measurement tools. What I take this to mean is that there should be a range of easily available and accessible impact measurement toolkits that can be used by the wide range of organisations that make up the nonprofit sector.
I find this a bit confusing because there is already a mass of information available, everything from HM Treasury’s Magenta Book to Proving and Improving from the projects of the NCVO to the Charities Evaluation Service . It seems to me to be more of an issue of adoption and adaptation than necessarily the need to create more tools.
Producing more off the shelf approaches doesn’t necessarily address the very barriers to impact measurement that the report itself identifies:
- Beliefs and assumptions about the value of impact measurement
- Expertise – not knowing what or how to measure
- Communicating results
- Funder expectations
These are complex and interlinked issues that need a wide range of approaches to tackle, a better range of tools may help address expertise issues but they cannot work in isolation. The development of collaborative approaches such as the measuring together initiative seems to me to be a more comprehensive tool for addressing them.
Please share your experiences of how you make sense of the impact of your work and what might help you overcome some of the barriers listed above.