I have just returned from New York. I was impressed and humbled by what the city has created as a memorial to 9/11, which seemed to me to balance a sense of deep community and personal loss with a drive to recover and look forward. I was in New York not for this, though, but for another important piece of horizon scanning. This was the fourth and final plenary meeting of the Social Impact Measurement Workstream set up under the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce. The taskforce was set up, with the drive from Sir Ronald Cohen, and the support of the prime minister, to improve how easily investment capital can be applied for social good: right across the world – surely an important mission. Drawing together enthusiastic streams of development of impact investing worldwide, it seeks to bring leadership and cohesion, and to support the development of some of the further infrastructure we need to make it work well.
The Impact Measurement Group is collating current best practice and drawing out a future vision for how measurement can support those social investors. In this it is picking up on some important existing and past developments and initiatives. Thank goodness for that: we too easily slip into re-inventing wheels on such occasions! Those key developments that stand out include the various approaches to measurement (SMTF in France for microfinance; SROI; SAA; the SRS reporting standards from Hamburg University, and others); consolidating sets of guidelines such as the EVPA Guide, and NPC’s frameworks; good practice examples from investors such as our own Bridges Ventures or the gamma model of Uli Grabenwarter at the EIF; and of course the European Commission “GECES” draft standards for impact measurement coming from the Social Business Initiative. There’s a lot of material on which to build.
So why all the effort…why do we even bother to measure social impact, let alone create global common standards? At the end of the plenary, we came back to just this point with a fascinating stab at our collective “elevator pitch.” It’s probably that we’re all hoping for a world in which social value is taken as being as important as financial value. In that world people – investors – would expect their investments to deliver both: in balance. Impact measurement, done well, can help us towards that goal. It brings four key factors, all of them of even greater value to the social enterprises delivering the services than to the investors who back them:
- A deep understanding of how we deliver the outcomes and how we can do so better
- The knowledge of how to grow, or scale, it better
- The ability to communicate better what we’re doing and how: to engage and challenge others to get involved
- And the foundation for continued learning from that.
I’ve heard from some quarters a fear of measurement: perhaps that it will compromise and belittle the social good we are achieving. Rather I see it as the means of enhancing, challenging, engaging and demanding others get involved, to do, or to value and embrace what is being done to help our communities and our society. We are, and can truly be, measuring what matters.