Having a solid plan, measuring performance and staying accountable is not easy for social impact programs. Social projects generally take place in low-resource settings where access to internet may limited. All things considered, the success of a social impact program is mandated by the quality of data that it collects on its activities, outcomes and ultimately long-term objectives.
Investing in social enterprises and civil society organisations carries moral responsibility. What is the expected return over investment (ROI) of this initiative? How are beneficiaries impacted by this initiative, and to what extent are these benefits persisting over time? How is the performance of this project measured? These are just a few examples of the questions that donors, stakeholders and the communities pursuing social impact face every day.
Social impact programs can vary widely in their scope and work, but they all have one thing in common: “doing good”. For some organisations, this will mean curing a disease or malnutrition while in others empowering minorities and tackling a social problem.
While the amount of philanthropic capital available for social entrepreneurship continues to grow year after year, the pressing issue that civil society organisations have is not in ‘what’ problems to solve but ‘how’ effective are in doing so. Having a solid plan, measuring performance and staying accountable is complex for a social enterprise due to the contexts where they usually operate.
In this article, we will cover how what social impact assessment is, what role data collection plays in social impact projects and how Teamscope makes data collection and performance tracking easy for social impact organisations.
Theory of Change (ToC) is a methodology for planning, implementing and evaluating social impact interventions. This framework is often used by companies, donors and civil society organisations to promote social change. Theory of Change starts by defining long-term goals and then mapping backwards the ‘in-between’ activities and outcomes that support that long-term objective.
The term was popularised by Carol Weiss, an American sociologist, who saw that many social impact programs failed because they were built on the premise of poorly defined assumptions. She emphasised the importance to break down a long-term goal into mini outcomes.
Theory of change serves as an impact strategy. Without a theory of change, the relationship between the resource input and the expected outputs becomes a black box and learning what should be improved is virtually impossible.
A short and succinct description (two lines) of the problem you are trying to tackle.
The people or organisations that you will work with directly, defined by their age group, geographic area, education level, and life stories.
Activities are the day-to-day work that a social enterprise carries out. For example, it can be training the target group on new skills, providing medical supplies, or screening children for a specific disease.
Social impact is the meaningful change you want to see in your target group in the long-term. This is something that you can measure and contribute but is only achieved by the target group and for themselves.
Outcomes go between your activities and long term impact. An outcome metric is the result that an activity has on your target group and can be measured quickly (after a few days or weeks). Examples of outcomes include a new skill or knowledge, a change in attitude or condition.
When designing an intervention, project managers should develop a robust theory of change and along with it an easy-to-implement plan to routinely gather data on activities and outcomes.
Collecting high-quality and routine data sounds easier said than done. Data collection can be a tedious task, especially when it is done on paper forms.
The lack of data is often the reason why projects fail to sustain themselves over time. When data is of poor quality, stakeholders can’t pinpoint what is going wrong, outcomes become questionable and trust among parties is weakened.
To avoid this, along with a theory of change, a data collection plan that answered the following questions must be implemented:
The evaluation of social intervention is only possible with accurate data. The symbiotic relationship between a project’s success and systematic impact data collection cannot be stressed enough.
Metrics and indicators are commonly used terms in project management. Both allow stakeholders to measure operations and provide insights to review the level of progress.
Although they can be easily confused, they have a different composition and give us a different understanding of how we are doing against our desired goals.
Metrics are simple measures, such as an amount or quantity. They are the basic building block of reaching operational excellence. A metric alone can’t tell us whether we are on the right path or not; they are simply a snapshot of a process.
Since a metric by itself cannot tell us whether we are going on the right, to get the necessary insights on how a project is performing the wiser outcomes to measure are indicators.
Indicators, also referred to as performance indicators, on the other hand, don’t just give us a numerical value that represents status but more importantly, it tells us the rate or extent at which we a result is being obtained.
Indicators are usually expressed in percentage rate or frequency formats and are the result of the calculation of two or more metrics.
When following up on progress, an organisation strive to collect metrics which can then be in turn be used to develop and track indicators.
Once you have mapped your sources of data, comes the challenge of collecting data routinely.
Social impact projects can take place in remote areas, and low-resource settings where computers might be cumbersome to travel with or internet connection might be slow or simply inexistent. The solution to this is to use mobile data collection solutions, like Teamscope: build mobile forms and use them anywhere, even in offline settings.
Teamscope’s mobile forms can be used regardless if there is a connection available or not and uploaded once a connection to the internet is available. When data is collected electronically, it can be validated automatically and visualised with just a few clicks, increasing the speed with which organisations can gain performance insights and quickly know if they are on the right track.
Data can also be collected directly from participants by inviting them to install the Teamscope app and making mobile forms available to them that beneficiaries, or their family member, can complete remotely.
If tablets or smartphones are not available, data can be collected using SMS messages or ultimately, with pen and paper forms.
Funders will face the moral problem of why to give money to one organisation and not another, while both might have plans to “do good” and create social impact. The challenge of being fair in how funds are dispensed requires stakeholders to have a higher level of accountability and transparency.
Trust and transparency are paramount in social impact assessments, and a practice that directly contributes to greater clarity is data sharing. Data sharing allows civil society organisations to build long-lasting relationships with stakeholders, donors and their beneficiaries.
While the benefits of disseminating raw data are indistinguishable, confidentiality must be duly protected, and the data rights of beneficiaries must be taken with the highest caution.
For data sharing to work, it must be considered in a project’s plan early on. Consent must be obtained from participants to share their data, and a data repository will have to be set up to make the data widely available. If you are interested in learning more about data sharing, be sure to check out our blog post on How to Successfully Share Research Data.
What isn’t measured, cannot be improved. In social impact evaluation, this means the difference between a social project’s ability to save or improve lives and have a sustainable impact. Without data to evaluate progress and performance, the future of a social enterprise is on the tightrope.
Pursuing social impact starts with a theory of change. Theory of change is the belief system that moves an organisation towards a long-term vision and the short-term activities and outcomes that make that long-term goal possible.
Any plan to achieve an ambitious goal must be married with data collection. By mapping early on the sources of data, how it will be collected and shared, social impact entrepreneurs are laying the foundation for a feedback loop that will allow them to evaluate their performance and build a healthy relationship with their communities and funding parties.
‘Doing good’ is a remarkable treat of human beings. Whether it’s helping academically underprivileged children, diagnosing and curing malnutrition or supporting community members that have suffered from family violence, the forms that altruism can take are limitless. The fact that we are sensitive to another person’s needs is not enough. Although we can identify a problem and articulate a solution, the success of our actions will be mandated not by ‘what’ we did, but always by ‘how’ we did them.