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  • Writer's pictureBeca Wistreich

The Basics of Impact Measurement: A Beginner's Guide

Have you ever wondered how organisations might measure their impact? If you've found your way here, chances are you're passionate about making a difference but aren't sure where to begin in truly understanding and demonstrating the impact you're making. Whether you're a social entrepreneur, a member of staff in a charity, a volunteer, or simply someone curious about creating positive change, grasping the basics of impact measurement is the first step towards creating intentional and meaningful impact. 

 

In this beginner's guide, we'll explore the fundamentals of impact measurement, from defining impact to selecting metrics and setting goals, as well as the tools needed to get started. By the end, I hope you'll have an understanding of what impact measurement is all about and how you can begin assessing the impact of your organisation’s actions in the world. 



 Impact measurement: what it is and why it’s important 

This is the systematic process of assessing the effects or outcomes of interventions on beneficiaries, stakeholders, communities, or the environment. In order to measure impact, we should quantify the intended and unintended consequences of our activities on those affected, to understand the overall impact of our actions. Impact measurement provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of activities, which can help us to make informed decisions about where we put our resources and what our strategy is for the future. Measuring impact also supports us in assessing our progress towards achieving goals, identifying areas for improvement, and demonstrating the effects of our activities to stakeholders. On an organisational level, the benefits of measuring impact are extensive. Understanding the impact of our activities enables us to set ambitious but achievable goals, optimise our resources for maximum impact creation, and foster transparency and accountability. On a broader level, impact measurement enables us to assess the social, environmental, and economic impacts of activities, which can help to prioritise resources and efforts towards addressing specific societal challenges, like poverty, inequality, or environmental degradation.  

 

Define your goals and objectives 

What is it that you want your activities to achieve? Make sure you have set goals that clearly articulate your long-term intended outcomes and have identified specific and measurable targets that can help you to track progress towards those goals. 

 

Identify the people affected 

Take some time to determine who you think will be affected by your activities and who has an interest in the outcomes. This goes further than just the people who attend a service or engage in an activity; think about who else might be affected by the changes created by your work, even if indirectly. 

 

Select relevant metrics 

Choose meaningful indicators and associated metrics that will show what progress has been made towards goals. It is best practice to involve the people who are affected in identifying what the indicators are that resonate most with them.  

 

Collect data 

Gather data on the selected metrics. It is valuable to collect both qualitative and quantitative data on outcomes achieved and how important these changes have been to the people experiencing them. 

 

Analyse data 

Data analysis can be done using a variety of ways, from quick comparisons of data collected before and after an intervention for establishing the amount of change, to using a sophisticated framework like Social Return on Investment which will help you to understand the value of the impact in greater depth. You should ideally decide what type of analysis you will complete before you begin collecting data, to ensure you’re gathering everything you will need. 

 

Interpret results 

Use the findings from your data analysis to support your understanding of your organisation’s effectiveness against its goals. Identify areas in which the organisation has succeeded and areas in which improvements could be made. Also try and identify any unintended outcomes.  You can engage with the people affected again at this stage to explore potential improvement opportunities. 

 

Use results for decision-making 

One of the key uses of the insights you have gained is to inform decision-making within your organisation. This could involve adjusting your strategies, reallocating resources, or even implementing new initiatives in order to create impact more effectively or efficiently, based on the findings. 

 

Communicate findings 

Present the results in a clear and compelling way for the specific audiences that are interested, which might include beneficiaries, staff, funders, donors, partners, and the wider community. Be transparent in your communications about what you found out and how the results will influence the organisation’s strategy and decision-making going forward. Transparency in communicating findings is essential for building trust and demonstrating accountability. 

 

Iterate and improve 

Review the process you undertook and the lessons you learned (there will be many!) to measure your impact and identify areas in which it could be evolved or improved for future measurement. Impact measurement is not a once-off thing, but a continuous and ever evolving process. Aim to improve over time. 

 

In conclusion 

Impact measurement serves as a compass, guiding organisations towards intentional and meaningful impact creation. Its importance cannot be overstated. By following the basic steps outlined we can begin to navigate the complex landscape of impact measurement with more confidence and clarity. Remember, though, impact measurement within your organisation is not a one-time endeavour but a continuous and evolving process. It’s never going to be “perfect,” especially not the first time you do it, but it’s better to start now and begin learning how to iterate and improve your approaches for the future. Done is better than perfect after all.  

 

So, as you embark on your journey to measure impact, I encourage you to embrace curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. Together, we can leverage the power of data and insights to drive positive change and create a better future for all. 

 

Over the next few months, I will be publishing a series of blog posts like this one to support you as your understanding of impact measurement grows and you begin to put it into practice. If you enjoyed this guide, make sure to check back here for the next one in a few weeks’ time. 



About the Author:


Beca Wistreich, Director at The Outcome, is an accredited Advanced Practitioner of Social Value, and a member both of Social Value Ireland and Social Value International. 

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