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PLAN YOUR INTENDED CHANGE
A common foundation of all impact measurement approaches is a plan for creating the intended change. This plan specifies how, and why, your work will bring about change. A diagram — such as a theory of change, outcomes map, or logic model — is often used to illustrate the relationships between actions, performance, and results. The purpose is to focus your measurement efforts; to describe the scope of these efforts; and to clarify who should be involved in the process. Be aware of the changes that matter most to your stakeholders. Include differing perspectives when defining how and why your work will bring about change, and get feedback on any potential unintended results (both positive and negative). By involving stakeholders in planning your intended change you will uncover differing assumptions, expectations and ideas that give the strongest possible basis for measuring impact.
We describe the impact we want to achieve.
We identify the broad, long-term change that fulfills our mission — the change that matters most to our stakeholders.
We identify the positive outcomes most central to that change.
We describe which results will most directly contribute to achieving the impact.
We state the main activities we will undertake.
We specify the actions that will achieve our desired outcomes.
We describe the process of change.
We specify how, and why, our work achieves results by illustrating the relationships between activities, outcomes, and impact. (This can be done by using a theory of change, an outcomes map, or a logic model.)
USE PERFORMANCE MEASURES
Performance measures, known as indicators, are another common foundation of many impact measurement approaches. They help you to assess how well your work is carried out, and what effects it has. A good set of performance measures will inform how to create impact, and what changes have occurred.
Where possible, involve stakeholders in the selection of your performance measures. Involve them in defining what success will look like from their perspective, what criteria or standards they have for for judging your performance, and what the priority should be between different indicators. By involving stakeholders, you can ensure the performance indicators you choose closely reflect the results you hope to achieve, and that the basis for measuring your impact is widely accepted.
We identify the information we need to show progress and impact.
We think of what our stakeholders need to know and what we want to show. We draw on the learning from our theory of change, outcomes map, or logic model if we have one.
We explore existing indicators that might be relevant.
We consider using existing indicators. Several initiatives have created “indicator banks” for particular fields of work. If these meet our needs, we use them — aligning them where we can.
We link indicators to our planned outputs and outcomes.
We use one or more indicators for each outcome, to show the difference we have brought about (outcome indicators). Our activities also have indicators, to show the amount or type of work carried out (output indicators).
We ensure that our indicators are S.M.A.R.T.
We employ Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Relevant, and Time-Bound indicators. They show progress over a reasonable length of time and focus on changes that can be observed and measured.
We source financial proxies from credible authorities.
If we choose to quantify outcomes in monetary terms, we ensure proxy indicators are taken from credible sources.
(If this question is not applicable because your organization does not quantify outcomes in monetary terms, please answer ‘yes’.)
COLLECT USEFUL INFORMATION
Gathering and analyzing data can be a resource-intensive task. A common foundation of impact measurement is that the information collected should be useful enough to you to make it worth the effort. This utility derives both from what information you collect, and from how it is collected, and how often. The right combination of those factors helps you to improve your work, and to demonstrate that you are making progress.
Where possible, share your data collection plans and ask people for their thoughts. Ideally, give your stakeholders options about how they will contribute and choose methods that will enable everyone to fully participate regardless of background, confidence or experience. By involving your stakeholders you will ensure the data you collect is as full and accurate as possible.
We decide what data we need to collect.
We decide what quantitative data (numbers) and qualitative data (for example, case studies) we need to help us understand how change happens, and what has changed — as well as the data we need to track output and outcome indicators.
We use methods that will give us the evidence we need.
We select the data-collection methods and tools that are most relevant to us; most practical to use; and most simple to implement with our available resources.
We plan our data collection.
We plan how we will collect data, when we will collect it, and who will collect it. We ensure our plan has support within the organization and builds on existing systems and processes.
We collect data in a routine and consistent way.
We gather information at regular intervals, and from the right sources. This task is part of our day-to-day work, with the staff responsible given the tools they need to do it accurately and consistently.
We act ethically in collecting data.
We collect only the data we require and we do it in ways that respect those whom we serve. If it is not possible to collect data from everyone, we use an appropriate sample.
GAUGE PERFORMANCE AND IMPACT
Whether quantitative or qualitative, no data set makes sense until it is presented in a reasonable and credible context. Implicit in all impact-measurement approaches is the need to assemble and analyze data. Only through this analysis can you gain insights about what works, and about how well you are doing.
Involve your stakeholders in helping you to make sense of the information you collect. Where possible, bring people together to discuss your findings, review results and explore the reasons behind these. Give them the opportunity to check whether your results are consistent with those you set out to achieve, and to identify lessons or make recommendations. By involving your stakeholders you can ensure that the information you collect is widely understood and becomes actionable.
We put a system in place for storing, managing and analyzing data.
We have set up an appropriate system for securely storing and managing the information we collect, ensuring it will give us reliable data when we need it. Staff understand the system and use it consistently.
We assemble and analyze information regularly.
We examine the information collected, simplify the results, and rigorously assess them — paying special attention to patterns that reveal important differences in the effects of our work.
We compare results to assess success.
We undertake regular comparisons of results, in order to judge progress. When possible, we compare results from our baseline situation (before our changes) to our targets (the things we hope to achieve). We may also use benchmarks as helpful points of reference.
We review differences regularly.
We conduct regular reviews of the evidence we gather, examining what changes have taken place, and how, and why. When possible, we involve our stakeholders to help check our findings.
We base conclusions about impact on reasonable assumptions.
We assign equal weight to positive findings, and those that are less positive — including negative outcomes. We also consider any changes that may have happened even without our work. (The causes of these may include factors that are outside of our control, such as the input of other services.)
REPORT ON RESULTS
The information you collect should be used to produce a balanced account of your work, and the difference it makes. This not only helps you to make better decisions about what to do next; it also allows you to communicate your achievements clearly and persuasively to others. Accordingly, your method for reporting this evidence is important for showing that your organization is trustworthy and accountable.
Report openly and in ways that are appropriate to your stakeholders. Take time to consult with your different audiences in advance to ensure that your reporting methods reflect their needs and preferences. Get feedback to ensure the information you present is clear, user friendly, and useful. Make efforts to ensure that communication becomes a two-way process, using appropriate channels. By reporting regularly and publicly you will establish trust, transparency, and accountability among your stakeholders.
We report on performance and impact every year.
We release regular public updates on the main things our organization has achieved and changed. (This transparent account helps others to understand the impact we have made.)
We choose reporting methods and communication styles targeted to our audience’s needs.
We ensure that our reports are interesting, and relevant to our audience. (Dense reports may be less effective than, for example, blogs, newsletters, bulletins, or postcards. These should still reflect the scale and complexity of your work.)
We present results in a visually engaging way.
We illustrate our information, when possible and appropriate — such as by using graphs, charts, infographics, and images. (This helps to communicate our findings in a way that is easy for others to grasp.)
We show the human stories behind your achievements.
We tell stories, to help us make an emotional connection with our audience and show them the difference our work makes to people’s lives. These stories may be in the form of written case studies, video content, or audio clips.
We base our account on credible evidence.
We report as fully and honestly as possible on our impact, emphasizing our checks for accuracy and our balanced approach. The information we report on is based on relevant and unbiased findings, and on reasonable interpretations of them.
- Thank-you for taking the Common Foundations self-assessment!
Does your organization do all five essential practices and their sub-practices?
- If you answered 'yes' to all of the sub-practices and would like to demonstrate your alignment with the Common Approach, please e-mail us a report (annual report or impact report) to email@example.com, and we will send you the Common Approach logo to use in your communications.
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