Impact measurement 101
Information, definitions and suggested action plan for impact measurement
How often do you hear people talk about the ‘impact’ of their work? Could you define impact? Do you know how to measure the impact of your work? This introductory guide will help you understand why impact measurement can be valuable, and how to get started.
So what is impact anyway?
Your impact is the change you create. You can describe the impact of a specific programme, or the impact of your organisation as a whole. For example, an impact that Creative Partnerships Australia seeks to achieve is ‘a more robust cultural sector’.
Sometimes when people say ‘impact’, they are actually talking about activities, outputs or outcomes:
- An activity is anything that you do in your organisation. For example, one of CPA’s activities is providing coaching and mentoring services.
- An output is the tangible deliverable for an activity. For example, the output of CPA’s coaching and mentoring service is the number of sessions our State Managers provide.
- An outcome is something that happens as a result of an activity or output. For example, a short-term outcome of our coaching and mentoring service might be that an individual’s fundraising skills increase. A longer-term outcome might be that artists and arts organisations attract more private sector funding.
A good way to understand how the concepts of activity, output, outcome and impact relate is the following sequential diagram:
Some important notes:
- When describing outcomes or impact you are not claiming that your activity is the sole cause of that outcome or impact; simply that it contributes.
- In the cultural sector, the term outcome has commonly been used to refer to audience outcomes (ie how many people attended a show). Outcome has a different meaning in the impact measurement context.
How do I measure outcomes and impact?
1. Understand why you are measuring your outcomes or impact
Understanding what you want to achieve by measuring your impact helps ensure you measure the right things. It will also help you understand how to use your measurement results. Some common reasons that organisations measure their outcomes or impact include:
Internal performance monitoring and continuous improvement: Measuring outcomes and impact is good governance. It can help you understand if you are achieving what you set out to achieve, how well you are doing it, or areas where you could do better. The data you collect (particularly qualitative data) can also reveal unexpected outcomes and provide insight into why particular outcomes occur. Some funders, such as Perpetual, place particular importance on the strong governance that outcomes and impact measurement demonstrates.
Access to funding: Some funders have defined the outcomes and impact that they are trying to achieve with their funding. Measuring your outcomes or impact can help support your case for funding by demonstrating how you contribute to that funder’s goals. For example:
- Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation has clearly defined outcomes and impacts that it is trying to achieve. Similarly, Ian Potter Foundation has defined the outcomes and impact it funds across a range of issue areas.
- The NSW Government has defined the outcomes it is seeking to achieve across a range of social domains.
Communication and advocacy: The quantitative and qualitative data you collect when you measure your outcomes and impact can help you tell the story of what your organisation does. The numbers, testimonials and stories that arise from impact measurement provide credibility and depth to your description of what you do.
2. Articulate (or hypothesise) your outcomes or impact
Before you start measuring, you need to know what it is you are trying to measure so you need to articulate your outcomes or impact. One approach is to simply answer the question: What are we trying to achieve? What is the change we are trying to create? Why are we doing what we do?
For a more structured approach, a theory of change is a tool that will help you understand how your activities lead to outcomes and impact. To learn more about developing a theory of change, watch this webinar.
You may need to do some initial consultation (internally, with the people/communities for whom you are trying to effect change or with other stakeholders) to be able to articulate the outcomes or impact of your project or organisation. You may also need to research which outcomes and impacts are most important to measure, based on why you are measuring your impact in the first place (see step 1).
3. Select indicators and collect data
For each outcome or impact you will measure, you need to select a proxy measure, called an indicator. An indicator needs to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. For example, an indicator that measures the long-term outcome of CPA’s coaching and mentoring service might be the total $$ amount of private sector funding to the arts.
Once you’ve chosen indicators, you need to design data collection tools to collect those measures.
If you don’t have resources to do this internally, you could consider engaging a consultant who specialises in impact measurement. There are also some off the shelf tools that allow you to gather data about particular outcomes and impact. One that is specific to the arts sector is Culture Counts .
Some important notes:
- Consider the utility of collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. Qualitative data can be particularly revealing, although it is more resource intensive to collect and process.
- Consider how you will integrate data collection with existing internal systems and processes. What resources will you need to allocate? Can you use data that you are already collecting, or that is publicly available?
4. Use your data
There’s no point investing in measuring your outcomes or impact if you don’t interpret and use the data. Another way to think about this is: only collect what you will use. If you’re not sure how to use your data then revisit step 1.
I’ve got my impact measurement stitched up so funding will follow?
Not quite. Your impact is likely to be only one of several factors that influence a funding decision and will be more important to some funders than others.
Being able to articulate the impact of a programme or your organisation will certainly help you build a compelling case for support, but it is only one side of the coin. Don’t forget the importance of relationship building and the power of an emotional connection. Read this blog by Steven Richardson about just that.
A final word of wisdom…
Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Start small rather than trying to measure everything. Pick two or three things that you consider particularly important to measure and focus on that.
A couple of great resources we’ve come across on impact measurement are:
- BYP Group’s ‘The basics of Social Impact Evaluation’ (2018)
- Social Venture Australia’s ‘Outcomes Management Guide’ (2018)
- These case studies of Patternmaker’s impact evaluation work