...stepping stones to true democratisation and transparency in social impact reporting.
After the launch of two new infrastructure initiatives, Dave Masom (Social Business Analyst, CAN Invest) shares his thoughts on how this could open up new opportunities for social impact measurement.
Monday (9th December) saw the launch of two key pieces of digital infrastructure for the social sector: The Global Value Exchange (formerly WikiVOIS) and Data Unity. With the Global Value Exchange the potential is for increasing knowledge sharing and standardisation regarding measuring social impact; with Data Unity, the power of data visualisation and the potential of open/big data is being brought to the masses.
CAN hosted the launch of these two initiatives, funded by Nominet Trust, in its Old Street Mezzanine because both of these tools have at their core a spirit of collaboration – a spirit that is shared in our CAN Mezzanines themselves as shared office spaces for charities and social enterprises. But the Global Value Exchange and Data Unity also point to two broader opportunities in how we measure social impact: democratisation and transparency.
1. Democratising how to measure social impact.
Democratisation of measuring social impact here means empowering a wider range of practitioners to conduct social impact analysis. If organisations are going to achieve their social missions they must have an understanding of their social impact. This requires social impact analysis to be embedded in frontline organisations, helping to define strategy and manage performance against it. It cannot just be the domain of consultants and academics.
In the arena of social impact analysis there is currently a worrying trend towards increasingly complex language and requirements that serve to make the processes of evaluating social impact a daunting prospect for many. This does not need to be the case. The primary concern with conducting social impact analysis is ensuring good data competency and embedding data collection and reporting processes in organisations. Having good data makes the case for social impact a lot easier to demonstrate; conversely, no number of fancy methodologies or techniques will turn bad data into good evidence. Both the Global Value Exchange and Data Unity, if used correctly by social sector organisations, go some way to reversing this trend.
The Global Value Exchange states its first aim as empowering stakeholders. It describes itself as an “open source data resource and relies on contributions from real practitioners. This ‘bottom up’ approach allows the real experiences of stakeholders and organisations to be heard by others”. The hope is that these ‘real practitioners’ include individuals from frontline organisations and others, not just ’specialists’.
What about Data Unity? Social impact data can be complex as it necessarily involves the messiness and variability of people. This complexity can mean that social impact analysis is the domain of the few, not the many. Data Unity addresses this through a highly intuitive interface that removes some of the technical acumen required by more traditional data analysis tools, in a similar vein to data visualisation tools such as QlikView and Tableau. In the private sector, these visualisation tools have changed the way organisations interact with their data, particularly in areas of ‘messy’ data such as HR and Talent Management. My hope is that tools like Data Unity will herald a similar revolution in social sector organisations’ engagement with data and its potential to empower organisations’ decision-making (and their stakeholders’ decision-making too).
2. Transparency through sharing and interaction.
The second opportunity is around transparency. Transparency is key to the credibility of social impact analysis because the discipline is in its infancy and therefore there are fewer set rules and standards to follow than (say) financial reporting. Again, both the Global Value Exchange and Data Unity can be seen to be contributing to fostering transparency in social impact measurement.
Firstly, both tools are open source, and if they are adopted by the sector and used fully, I hope this will increase the transparency inherent in the sector through knowledge sharing, benchmarking, and standardisation. But I hope the trend won’t stop there. I would like to see organisations increasingly taking on the baton of transparency for themselves and seeing it as a strength for their operations and brand. Social impact consultants have a responsibility to make this happen by demonstrating the ‘case’ for transparency in their own analyses and the way they communicate results.
For example, a good social impact report will clearly outline its assumptions and choices for outcomes, indicators and any valuations in what can often be a long and dense report . We can go further than this. What if organisations started to primarily display their social impact analyses in an online visual format which is interactive? Users could scroll through a list of measurement indicators and valuations identified by the organisation for a specific outcome and select the one they find most compelling, rather than having this choice made for them. The impact analysis could then update to recalculate the social value generated. Perhaps the ‘default’ proxy could be determined by which was most frequently selected by stakeholders interacting with the tool. This would take transparency to a whole new level – one which gives stakeholders the opportunity to make an informed choice.
Communicating your impact
This idea of an interactive, dynamic social impact report is just one of the options that we at CAN are exploring, to help the social organisations we work with make their impact analyses even more democratic and transparent. And it should be noted that although I have focused on the quantifiable aspects of social impact reporting here, we should not lose sight of the other ways that value can be communicated, such as case studies, and the need to improve the way we communicate via these mediums as well. Indeed, one question from the floor concerned whether Data Unity could handle also qualitative data (the answer: watch this space).
In the meantime, while we as a sector may not be at the stage yet where many social organisations can produce such a dynamic depiction of their social value, it is already within the reach of some. The launch of these two tools is a further step in the direction of increasing democratisation and transparency.
Does a dynamic social value report appeal to you? How would you use this to create greater social impact? Let us know your thoughts below.