I thought it may be useful to re-post an old entry which has helped colleagues in the corporate and charity sector to make a better start to their relationships and measuring the impact that they have working together:
For companies, one of the most difficult (and frustrating) aspects of contributing to positive social, environmental and economic impact is finding realistic ways of measuring the difference they make. To add to the challenge the terminology we use is often misused and misinterpreted.
Thankfully there are some simple ways to prevent getting lost in the myriad of terms, and our experience has shown us that the one companies and charities alike find easier is to approach everything in a chronological way.
A programme that a company runs as part of its CSR should begin with aims and objectives. The aims of the work should clearly outline a change that is sought. From a strategic perspective, this is the most crucial step often skipped by companies. That usually takes between 5% and 15% of the whole project time, but without doing it, the whole project is unsurprisingly... aimless.
All too often aims run something along the lines of , ‘our aim is to work with the local community’ or ‘to improve employee engagement’ or ‘to become a sustainable organisation’.
Whilst the intention is well meaning, it misses out on the key aspect of an aim, which is about why the company is doing it and what kind of change the project intends to have. For example:
Aim: To reduce the spread of HIV in young people in Gauteng, South Africa so that we increase our employee engagement in the local factories and reduce our turnover of staff as we increase their level of satisfaction for being associated with our brand and lower the infection rate in our future staff.
We will often have an overarching aim that is backed up by one or a series of goals to contribute to the bigger picture, like:
(A) goal: To increase the acceptance of HIV as a disease by young people in Gauteng, educate them about methods of infection and the implications of being HIV positive
The next step is to set objectives or activities to achieve these specific goals:
A specific objective: To perform plays in front of 5 thousand young people in Gauteng by December 2010 to educate them about the risks and consequences of infection.
When it comes to the measurement process itself, having clearly defined the aims, goals and specific objectives means the activity of the project should be clear.
Once this work has been done, the output should, if the programme has gone according to plan, be the objective of the project expressed in the past tense. For example, ’Twenty plays were performed, educating the audience about the risks and consequences of HIV infection, across 9 schools in the Gauteng district of South Africa reaching 5,500 students within three months at a cost of £20k’.
At the output stage there is room for clarification around what was over or underachieved with the resources that were made available as the input directly affects the quality and level of output.
Where it begins to get interesting, however, is beyond the stage of input and output.
Documenting these early stages amounts to reporting the activity that was planned and what actually happened, but the vast majority of CSR investments take place because companies are looking for a change. And this change is what is documented at the final two stages of outcome and impact.
Outcome and impact are often the most misused of all of the terms because they are difficult to get right.
The outcomes of our project are the changes or benefits that take place as a result of the project and relate to the goals we set. Our specific goal in our example was to increase the acceptance of HIV as a disease, improve knowledge about infection and living with HIV. This means our outcome indicators would demonstrate the change that has taken place in the number of young people as a result of this work. For example:
Before the performance of the play 4 in 10 young people did not believe HIV existed, 5 in 10 did not know how it was transmitted and 3 in 10 did not know what the implications were for living with HIV. The outcome of this project is that 9 in 10 young people now believe HIV to exist, 100% know how it can be transmitted and 100% understand the implications for living with HIV.
The importance of measuring the change in attitude is crucial to understanding the project’s outcomes.
Having said that, this change in attitude, whilst a goal of the project, was not the overall aim, which was to reduce the spread of HIV infection in young people, and it is when we measure against this overall aim that we find the impact of the project.
The measurement process for the project impact is entirely different, and generally takes place over a much longer timeframe and is much broader (in our example above, the analysis of outcomes can be done the same day as the play, or shortly afterwards).
Achieving an impact from this project would amount to being able to say that the number of young people in Gauteng who were infected with HIV fell from 30% in 2009 to 15% in 2010. A great impact assessment for this project would be to be able to say that it fell from 30% to 15%, out of which the statistical analysis (or any other sort of reliable evidence) showed that half of the fall was due to this specific project. Although daunting, this can be done through many different scientific methods (e.g., control groups, regression analysis etc), and normally is less difficult than most people think.
When you work backwards through the process, it becomes clear as to why it is so important to set clear, specific aims, goals and objectives right at the beginning of a programme and to make sure you have selected the best indicators (and only the best) for your project and have a system in place to monitor the input, output, outcomes and the impact. Unless you know the details of your projects you will never truly know the extent of your impact, let alone your outcomes or outputs.