Complete Story


Plotting Impact Beyond Simple Metrics

NGOs must think across the tangibility and the speed of emergence of change

A few months back, we received an internal letter from the founder of an NGO, reflecting on the relationship between funders and founders in the development sector. An anecdote about impact leaped out, in which the community was asked what had changed as a result of the organization's intervention. The founder had expected the community to talk about the NGO's flagship program—targeted at improving livelihoods and income—but in village after village, the community partners explained that, "The fear has gone. We are no longer afraid."

How does one measure fear or its absence? How does one measure something priceless?

The story provoked us to consider what assumptions might be constraining how we think about impact. Compared with domains like manufacturing, in which the relationship between inputs and outputs is relatively direct and causal, ascertaining the impact of social programs is tricky (which makes it all the more important to learn from our partners). After all, societal problems exist within systems, which are not static but inherently reflexive: The very act of intervention changes the system, which, in turn, requires interventions to change. However, development sector measurement and evaluation approaches often don’t reflect this reality: Most often evaluations are sequenced to come in at the end of a program, as opposed to evolving with the program. Implementation to evaluation is usually a straight line, while social change work goes in cycles. And evaluations typically focus on metrics without fully appreciating the second or third order effects a change in those metrics might have on adjacent variables.

Please select this link to read the complete article from SSIR.

Printer-Friendly Version