Empowering Social Impact Organizations through Measurement and Evaluation for Equitable Outcomes
April 10, 2023
How Purpose’s Impact Measurement and Learning Function Builds Power among Marginalized Communities and Creates Systemic Change
Imagine for a moment that you’re a teacher at a local daycare. In your classroom, there are a dozen three-to-five-year-olds full of curiosity, energy, and unique personalities. Every day is a wonderful new adventure except for one small problem – lunchtime. The kids in your class are gorging themselves near bursting one day and barely eating anything at all the next. Their table manners are atrocious. Good luck convincing them to eat anything that isn’t shaped like a dinosaur or a cartoon character. The principal is stressed, the parents are at wits end, and the school chef is on the verge of revolt. What do you do?
Maybe you try something completely off the wall to trick the kids into eating. Maybe you acquiesce to the demands of your chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese-obsessed charges. Maybe you hand in your resignation and wish your colleagues the best of luck. Or, maybe, you look back over your notes and records from the past few weeks to gather evidence and get a clearer look at the problem. The kids like vegetables, but only if they’re roasted. They’ll eat anything covered in ketchup but mutiny if they see even one piece of unpureed tomato. Sandwiches are boring, but there’s something about gyros or tacos that really excites them. Patterns and insights start to emerge, the foundation of an effective strategy for creating positive impact.
Some might scoff at the idea that running a daycare class is as complex as navigating the social impact space. However, similarities abound. Issues that span every intersection of identity. Diverse groups of stakeholders and beneficiaries with competing priorities. Ever-shifting contexts that stymie simple solutions. Communities, philanthropies, and other stakeholders want to support and adopt the most effective strategies for changing the world. In response, social impact organizations are adapting to demonstrate how and why their work produces lasting, tangible change. This requires impact measurement capabilities that enable evidence-centric approaches and generate data-driven, actionable insights. The challenge for any organization undertaking this journey is establishing the necessary systems, processes, and culture to fulfill its ambitions.
Purpose’s journey toward integrating impact measurement
For more than a decade, Purpose has developed successful strategies, campaigns, and programs to advance the fight for a more open, just and habitable world. Every team on every project across the organization works together to create impact for our clients, partners, communities, and movements. As the demand for a clearer idea of our impact on the communities we work with increased, so too did our motivation and intentionality to build a culture of impact within the organization. We knew our definition of impact: the long-term, tangible effects (intended and unintended) of a program, campaign, or intervention on the beneficiaries (i.e. target audiences, impacted communities, etc) and overall society.
“As the demand for a clearer idea of our impact on the communities we work with increased, so too did our motivation and intentionality to build a culture of impact within the organization.”
The next step was to evolve our approach to impact measurement, integrating more emphasis on evidence and data for greater learning and innovation. So in 2021, the Impact Measurement and Learning function was created to expand and innovate Purpose’s capabilities for measurement and evaluation. Over the past two years the IML team has developed an approach and methodology to impact measurement that focuses on evaluation strategies for movement-building, organizing, and advocacy. The IML team also led efforts to educate and upskill staff, ensuring that each person feels capable and confident integrating impact into every phase of every project regardless of their role.
Centering accountability and equity within impact measurement
The result has been greater success, improved effectiveness, and more actionable insights in all of the work on a range of issues across the globe. However, each accomplishment provoked new challenges. How could impact measurement empower social impact organizations to concurrently create systemic change and build power among impacted communities? Which evaluation strategies could center the perspectives of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in a way that bolstered the rigor and accountability of our approach?
With those questions in mind, we integrated accountability and equity as organizational outcomes within our impact measurement methodology. Core to Purpose’s success is the integration of equity as a lens through which we center the most vulnerable or marginalized groups so that all our work builds towards more equitable outcomes and avoids exacerbating existing disparities. Project by project, we tested, iterated, and refined our approach through campaigns like:
- Biodiversity by the Bay, a campaign incubated by Purpose Climate Lab, centered its work on engaging youth leaders and vulnerable communities within Mumbai, bringing previously unheard voices into the climate movement and experimenting with new approaches to create and assess long-term climate impact.
- Through collaboration with CARE International, we were able to co-build a framework, unique to the organization, that set the groundwork for a more ethical and dignified storytelling practice, in order to continue generating powerful impact that CARE works towards everyday across a variety of issues.
- To combat the growing scourge of COVID-19 misinformation and provide accurate, lifesaving information, Purpose and the United Nations launched Verified, a global communication initiative to combat vaccine hesitancy focusing on vulnerable communities facing a number of related issues exacerbated by the pandemic.
Summing Up: Overcoming Challenges & Driving Collaborative Impact
These experiences highlighted that our progress on impact measurement needed to be in greater conversation with the partners, communities, and stakeholders that we work with to be truly valuable. Impact is often a level of change beyond the scope of what any one organization alone can accomplish. And often no two organizations, communities, or even individuals define “impact” in the same way. Usually, that means spending as much time on building alignment and consensus as we spend doing the actual work. That leaves scant time for innovating approaches to impact measurement, and even less for integrating impact measurement as a force multiplier rather than simply another box to be checked on a grant application or a campaign report.
Looking ahead, Purpose aspires to match our motivation for expanding our capabilities with a dedication to greater collaboration and co-creation with organizations that are undertaking similar journeys. The more that organizations in every sector see impact measurement as core to their work, the more impact measurement can be a tool to shift strategies. And doing so also highlight the connections and overlaps between issue areas – provoking more effective and impactful approaches to create a more just, open, and habitable world. And sometimes the opportunities to create that change start in the smallest and most unexpected of places – like a daycare.
“The more that organizations in every sector see impact measurement as core to their work, the more impact measurement can be a tool to shift strategies.”
Put yourself back in the shoes of that daycare teacher vexed by lunchtime headaches. You’ve assessed the problem, you’ve gathered the data, and you’ve considered the complexities. Based on that evidence, you work with the chef to design a new improved menu that makes lunchtime a much more positive experience for the whole school. Students get healthy, delicious meals that expand their palettes and reinforce healthy eating habits. The principal is relieved, the parents are ecstatic, and the school chef is reinvigorated. Even better, other schools are eager to learn from your experiences and apply your approaches for the betterment of their own students. Integrating impact measurement as a core component of any strategy can help clarify the most effective paths to lasting, tangible, and positive change.
If you would like to learn more about our approach to impact measurement and learning, contact us here.
for Equity & Evidence