The Promise of Impact Science
Impact science can predict success with near scientific certainty
Over the past two centuries, economists, policy makers, and researchers have aspired to “harden” social science. A lot of progress has been made: using randomized, controlled experiments; making “evidence-based” decisions; and generating rigorous data. At the same time, there are limitations to how far the field can go towards becoming a “true science” which involves generalizability, replicability, and prediction.
This is particularly important in social impact, where we need evidence to make decisions related to policy, funding, and programs, so we can solve intractable problems. Some could argue that we have plenty of evidence, based on the sheer volume of published research. According to Google Scholar, there are 5.7 million published studies on “behavior change.” The Social Science Research Network includes 1.7 million studies. Yet publishing articles doesn’t necessarily translate to accessible knowledge or changes in practice.
For as much as we know through research, it doesn’t seem to be moving the needle of progress. We looked at spending across the social impact sector; including government, global and domestic philanthropy, and S-themed ESG assets under management; and found that globally we are spending an extraordinary amount of money—roughly $72 trillion annually—making social spending the world’s largest financial market. Yet, according to the United Nations, the world has only made a 3 percent improvement on the Sustainable Development Goals since 2014.
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