Are you sure you’re having an impact?

Social impact – and the measurement of it – is pretty challenging. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important. Knowing you’re making a difference when it comes to the issues of the likes of poverty, equality and fulfilment is essential. Yet, unlike capital, it’s hard to quantify.

Dealing with products, customers and awareness is a simple matter of whether your numbers add up to more than what you put in to start with. Turnover, profits, return on investment (ROI)? All relatively simple. Measuring how giving people agency, shifting a system to be more inclusive or impacting cultures through changing mindsets… much harder!

As a result, in the third and public sectors, where the focus is less on profit and more on people or a bigger purpose, we tend to get caught up on the delivery of solutions. The number of services or programmes undertaken, and the people processed through. Views of an awareness-raising video on a social issue or using an app to obtain peer support. Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Yet, those numbers don’t necessarily add up to anything. If “we measure what we value” as an adage is true, what value is watching a video creating? What difference does attendance at a training course make to someone’s life? Very rarely does social impact measurement deal in the how its meeting people’s needs or changing behaviours to pursue a more conscientious course of action.

So, the focus on solutions, and the “deliverable outcomes” they’re designed to deliver often limit us. Not just because we have no idea if they’re making a difference, but in fixating on a quantifiable end goal, we’re controlling and constricting what good looks like from the outset. Resultantly, it closes down curiosity, and the ability to learn and flex in an arena where change is constant.

Instead, charities, social enterprises and public departments make change a contained and finite process, when in reality, people’s lives, society and the economy is constantly in flux, and in some instances, can actively prevent progress from taking place. Just when we as changemakers thought we were sticking it to the system, eh?

Its an infuriating realisation, especially for those wanting to make a difference in the world. Add to that the fact that despite we’re actively removing the work away from concepts like ROI, we’re still working within funder prescribed conditions, which ultimately come down to what you’ve been budgeted to deliver.

Deliver for “free” too. As it’s charitable, or pro-social, the expectation from the wider market and society is that it’s delivered cheaply or on goodwill, and in the process of making change happen, are actively devaluing the work we do. Not only have we failed to change the systems many people move into these sectors to avoid, but we’re shadowing it too, and not in a disruptive way.

It’s these issues that as an organisation we’re reflecting on, as we design for social change, and build movements with diverse people. What we value is people-valuing one another, and coming together to enable to live safe, connected and meaningful lives, regardless of their identity or life experience. How the hell do you measure that?

The answer is, we don’t know, but we’re asking questions. Questions like, how do you redefine worth when it’s only ever been calculated in dollar signs? How might we remain open to innovation with the constraints that capital brings? How are we creating value where people are prioritised alongside profit?

Difficult, but we’re trying. Encouraging businesses to see social impact as more than fundraising and volunteering, and proactively engaging in co-creating social change like we have with our homelessness employment initiative, HI Future. Remaining open to innovation by committing ourselves to an agile process, where change is constant and active listening is embedded in Noisy Cricket’s MO.

As for creating value, we’re looking at alternative ways to measure it, and going beyond simply quantifying human movement and looking to capture the meaningful experiences that create change in communities, industries, lives and society. We’re starting with the questions though, and if you’re interested in helping us understand them, give us a shout!