At SecondMuse, since our founding nearly ten years ago, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to comprehensively measure our impact. Many different approaches exist for measuring the impact of innovation, or even more specifically social innovation. In fact, there has been a rise in standard metrics through initiatives such as IRIS and B Corp which go beyond traditional measurement. Still, none of these seem to quite capture the full impact of our work. Our network-centered approach to innovation means that there are diverse communities of people working together, often in new or unlikely ways, to create change. The work we do in measuring our impact aims to capture the power of that novel collaboration.
This new way of working together means that individuals and organizations must expand their current world views, break down silos, and explore alternative models to solving complex problems. Going through this process has been extremely fruitful to us and many of our clients and network members. How can you measure personal shifts that then go on to impact how organizations function? How do you account for the ripple effects within a network? And how can you accurately assess the social, environmental, or even economic impact that a startup will have years or even decades down the line? It’s nearly impossible and quite costly to keep track of all of this.
Throughout these last ten years we’ve experimented with how we want to measure our impact. At the end of each acceleration period, we survey our innovators to better understand what they’ve been able to achieve while working with us. As much as possible, we have used standard metrics such as IRIS and engaged with experts to better understand what types of data we should be collecting. We’ve found that, with surveys, we sometimes missed our innovators true impact because we hadn’t gone deep enough to understand their journey. As a certified B Corp, we use the B Impact Assessment to measure and improve our social and environmental impact as a company. In the past year, we even started using this tool for our innovators to help them better measure their impact and start thinking beyond traditional metrics of success. While some innovators were very excited by the idea and were ready to jump in (in one case, one of our innovators decided to prioritize the diversification of their workforce to include more women as a result), others were intimidated, feeling like they were just getting off the ground and couldn’t answer many of these questions.
We’ve learned that trying to collect the same set of metrics across all our programs to show our collective impact doesn’t work. We end up imposing metrics that don’t make sense for some and miss the impact that others are making. Furthermore, taking a network-centered approach to our work means that we are often accountable to many different types of stakeholders ranging from development agencies to private investors. This adds another layer of complexity as each of these stakeholders has their own set of metrics that they want to see when measuring impact.
Instead of having a one size fits all methodology, we’ve decided to take a logic framework approach which allows us to tailor indicators based on program realities showing how our activities ultimately lead to the impact we hope to achieve. We also want to tell a coherent story of impact which means going beyond just what the data can describe. As a result, we’ve decided to focus on storytelling for impact measurement, sharing individual and community narratives from within the innovation ecosystem to speak to its effectiveness. This means taking that extra step to really understand how the outputs of our work create change in the lives of people.
We view impact measurement as an imperfect art and a science. We believe in taking a rigorous approach to data collection and ensuring that we are using this data to help us improve our work and make important programmatic decisions. At the same time, we know that this work is complex and we may not see the full impacts of our work within a six month or even year long time frame. This means using proxies for impact and often relying on short term outcomes as indicators of expected change and sharing stories to inspire others along our journey.
We will likely never comprehend the full impact of our work, but that’s okay as long as we know that we are on the path towards creating a more sustainable, inclusive, and meaningful society.