As funders call for a new set of questions regarding the overall value of the programs they fund, nonprofits everywhere are challenged with a new reality, a reality that requires new evaluation tools and techniques to advance the social impact of programs. The Impact Genome Project (IGP) arrives at a time when funders are asking whether a program advanced the appropriate outcomes, and how the program compares to others.
In his recent webinar, Using Big Data to Predict Social Impact, Jason Saul, one of the nation’s leading experts on measuring social impact, challenges the social sector to raise the bar and come up with a new generation of data that allows us to answer a fundamentally different set of questions. This will require changing the way we approach evaluation, a shift from the overall obsession with measurement and accountability (output metrics) to a focus on what actually creates value and achieves the desired result that brings outcomes to the forefront (efficacy indicators).
Saul’s organization, Mission Measurement, helps corporations, nonprofits and the public sector measure and improve social investment. Mission Measurement launched IGP this year to shift the results of evaluation away from the retrospective model to a predictive model. Saul notes that the social sector is the last sector not to use predictive data to make better decisions, even though we are likely the sector with the richest data.
The challenges we face in the social sector include:
- lack of a common language
- measuring every single output or performance metric of our program (instead of measuring what determines our contribution to outcomes and how far we are moving the needle on those outcomes)
- the focus on measurement as a primarily academic inquiry – evaluation we can’t understand sits in shelves, websites and databases
Saul urges the social sector to build on the great evaluation work we have been doing and codify that knowledge to improve the level of practicing in the sector.
With all the academic knowledge that exists and practical data of what works, what doesn’t, and what drives outcomes, we can dramatically lower the cost of evaluation. Saul calls for organizations in the social sector to share knowledge among funders, nonprofits, academics, government officials and corporations.
Sharing knowledge and creating data and benchmarks that are available to help people make better decisions as a sector can diminish the burden and costs of evaluation. And instead of hiring pricy evaluators for every single program or in some cases letting evaluation happen to us, we can produce much better outcomes and allocate resources much more efficiently to organizations that are producing results or effective interventions.
To learn more about the Impact Genome Project (or propose a genome project that matters to you), Jason Saul, and the work of Mission Measurement, visit its website.
- Naomi Marx, MCF executive assistant