I recently spoke with Michelle Strutzenberger, of Axiom News, about the state and future direction of impact measurement in anticipation of my participation in the panel 'Measuring and Demonstrating Impact' at the Social Enterprise World Forum taking place in Calgary October 2-4. It was a great opportunity to reflect about my experience in the last six years of working in this area, and to articulate where I see this work evolving. The story will be published as part enpCanada stories, the news service for Enterprising Non-profits Canada.
Here are my reflections to Michelle's questions:
1. What’s the commitment you hold that brings you to be involved in this space of measuring and demonstrating the impact of social enterprise?
My commitment is to ensure that social enterprises are in the driver’s seat when it comes to measurement – that it serves their needs to develop their enterprises by giving useful, management insights about both mission and business. I am committed to giving the tools to social enterprises to understand and learn about their impact, so that this knowledge can be shared with others and use to advance the social enterprise sector as a whole.
2. What’s energizing you most about what you are seeing unfold here?
I think a lot of learning has taken place in the past decade about how to develop successful social enterprises and what the specific development needs are of these ventures relative to mainstream business or non-profit programs. I have seen that by supporting social enterprises to track and express their success they can be more responsive to the evolving needs of the enterprise and can clearly articulate who they are and how they effectively address community needs.
3. What’s possible now that wasn’t possible before?
There are some pretty exciting developments in technology and data accessibility. For instance, it’s possible to use free or minimal costs apps to track data on a smart phone on the go; on-line surveys can be set up on-line at minimal or no cost; and through the open data movement, governments and in some cases businesses are making their datasets available for anyone to use in accessible formats.
4. What needs to happen next?
I believe two key things need to happen. The first is that we need to advance collaborative research into social, environmental and economic outcomes. We often stress the need for data on long-term outcomes (for instance, how does providing supportive employment affect the health, housing stability and well-being of individuals; how does recycling impact greenhouse gas emissions?...), yet often this is beyond the scope of any one enterprises to measure, and no social enterprises works alone in their community to their impact. It’s better to band together to research these impacts together, so that we can benefit individual and collectively from this information. This is not something that can be done off the side of a desk.
The second is that we need to do more to support social enterprises to set up good performance measurement systems early on that will directly serve their management, planning and communication needs. This can be one-on-one support (for instance, right now we provide support to do this in Vancity’s social enterprise portfolio program) or through workshops and training.
5. How do you anticipate being involved?
The Demonstrating Value Initiative is committed to these two objectives. We have many years of experience now with building the capacity of social enterprise in measurement through the use of the Demonstrating Value framework that was collaboratively developed by the social enterprise community (www.demonstratingvalue.org). We are also keen to collaborate with others working to advance this work