Before considering further some of the shared principles of impact measurement approaches, it is useful to consider how impact measurement might differ from other approaches to performance evaluation for services, projects or investments.
In general, evaluation involves the assessment of the performance of a particular activity, action, policy, investment or programme, in relation to a given set of objectives and from a specific perspective. There are very many different ways to understand the performance of an activitiy, depending on the perspective of the evaluator, and consequently there are many different ways of undertaking an evaluation. For example, an evaluation of a given organisation might focus on the ‘quality’ of work the organisation undertakes, which generally means looking at performance in terms of processes and policy and determining whether certian standard has been achieved in the delivery of these. The same organisation might be interested in the financial benefits to investing in one activity over another, in which case some form of financial appraisal or economic cost/benefits analysis would be in order.
Impact measurement approaches are about understanding the impacts, or outcomes, that a policy, activity or investment brings about, and not as much about the process which delivers these outcomes. When we talk about Social Impacts, we are talking about understanding the results of a policy, activity or spend for a wide range of stakeholders, and though this might include developing an understanding of ideas of quality and costs, the ‘social impacts’ of any policy or activity might be much broader and incorporate the outcomes experienced by a range of different groups and entities.
Social Impact Scotland considers impact measurement to include both evaluation of social impact (in this widest sense) and also approaches and tools for monitoring social impact, or outcomes. Evaluations are usually understood to be analysis or assessments undertaken at a given point in time, providing understanding of the performance of a particular activity either at that time,at some specific point previously, or potentially and estimate of the impacts that might be achieved by a given point in the future. Information and data collected through monitoring informs these ‘point in time’ evaluations, and monitoring is therefore an activity which is ongoing, or which takes place over a period of time. To be in a position to undertake an evaluation of social impact, an organisation will usually need to have collected enough good quality outcomes data to be able to demonstrate how much ‘change’ the policy, activity ot investment being assessed has helped to bring about for the key stakeholders involved in the analysis.
Before considering which methodology, approach or tool might be most helpful for you, its important to have a clear idea about what it is you want to know, and why you want to know it. The ‘Methods and Tools’ section of the site introduces some of the more prominent approaches to social impact measurement, and offers some initial guidance on how these might be applied and what they might tell you about your activity. The ‘Getting Started’ section focuses on identifying which outcomes to measure, and on monitoring these outcomes.
If you’d like further support understanding your evaluation and monitoring needs, and you are a third sector organisation based in Scotland, Evaluation Support Scotland offers a range of information, workshops and support from their site here.