Measuring what matters is a persistent challenge for a social entrepreneur. The emerging field of impact investing has increased demands on social entrepreneurs to report both financial and impact metrics to their investors. Social enterprises also need to track a variety of internal metrics that help them hone their products and operations.
With an already full plate of managing staff, pursuing new sales, and improving products, social entrepreneurs need a streamlined portal to find the right impact assessment tools. At SEED SPOT, a social impact incubator, we work with social entrepreneurs creating impactful businesses and we see first-hand how many are struggling to research and adapt the various methods and tools necessary to assess their impact. They need a way to explore all available impact measurement tools and hone in on those that matter to them.
There is clearly a need for a central resource that allows social entrepreneurs to search all the existing tools for social performance measurement.
Some promising efforts are already in progress:
- The Impact Reporting Investment Standards (IRIS) initiative, managed by the Global Impact Investing Network, is currently writing guidelines for sector-specific social impact metrics.
- B Impact Assessment and the Global Impacting Investing Ratings System (GIIRS), managed by B Lab, are producing standardized tools for established companies to measure their social and environmental performance.
- Kopernik’s catalogue of Impact Tracker Technology and the Foundation Center’s database of Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact serve as one-stop shops for social entrepreneurs to collect data, improve internal processes, and measure impact.
The problem is that these repositories only cater to subgroups of social entrepreneurs, such as those focusing on “last mile” consumers and/or a particular issue, community or geographic area. Social entrepreneurs need a centralized, standardized resource that they can use to find the best impact measurement tools regardless of their size, stage or sector.
Impact accelerators are a great place to start because they work directly with early-stage social entrepreneurs every day and they have a deep understanding of the major pain points and time constraints related to impact measurement.
At SEED SPOT, we developed a master list of common indicators aligned with the IRIS metric taxonomy. To provide a sustainable measurement method, we are developing a resource that any social entrepreneur can use to sort their sector-specific metrics into categories pertaining to their financial health, performance goals, and impact outcomes. But we still hear from social entrepreneurs that they have trouble finding the right ones.
Our efforts are one step toward what the sector needs: a truly comprehensive, community-managed repository that will guide social entrepreneurs at any stage to the most appropriate tools for impact measurement. This repository could also provide a way for stakeholders outside of the social enterprise community to suggest new tools and methods.
We think funders and researchers are key partners in this effort. The Kauffman Foundation and Emory University have created a Seed Grants program to stimulate research collaboration between entrepreneur support programs. We hope that more university centers and foundations focusing on social entrepreneurship will engage and support the diverse orientations and methodologies of impact measurement.
Meanwhile, our community needs to come together in other ways to improve impact measurement across the sector. The process of building and refining impact measurement tools must extend to include more stakeholders, including researchers, funders, impact investors, and a diverse set of social entrepreneurs across sectors. Regional or sectoral silos have no place in the social sector.
To join in this conversation, consider joining the new Impact Collaboration working group on Slack. We have members from around the world representing impact accelerators, university research teams, NGOs, and students.
If we want to support all organizations focused on creating solutions to social problems, we need to work across networks.
How does your organization choose impact measurement tools? Would a central resource help you manage impact more effectively? Chime in with a comment below. You can also connect with John Schwarzlose on Twitter or LinkedIn. Learn more about SEED SPOT on their website.