How Do You Measure The Value of Impact Measurement?

How Do You Measure The Value of Impact Measurement?

impactDavid Ainsworth asks why a discipline so focuses on measurement can provide so little evidence of its own achievements.

If you ever want to be really annoying, as I occasionally do, you can ask someone who works in impact measurement how they measure the impact of measuring your impact.

It’s a silly question with sensible ends. The charity sector is increasingly being asked to provide evidence of its effectiveness, but those doing the asking appear not to be subject to their own rules. There are no measures and metrics which can tell us whether a growing focus on outcomes and impact has really added value to the charity sector. Nor does anyone seem much interested in developing them.

It’s a key question for a number of reasons, not least because the charity sector seems quite inclined to treat impact measurement with deep suspicion and – at times – downright antipathy.

At first glance this seems odd. After all, what could be more sensible than putting some checks in place to see whether you’re actually doing any good?

It’s not as simple as that, though. Measuring the impact of a charity’s work is complex, time-consuming and expensive. It’s hard to justify to donors and it takes away from resource which can actually be used to help people. So doing it is not trouble-free.

An initial reluctance to dedicate resource to measurement has been made worse because those involved in promoting it have sometimes spoken in a language the sector does not understand, and seemed unwilling to understand the exigencies of life on the front line.

Added to that, much of the requirement to measure outcomes has been championed by funders, who often don’t bother to align their requirements with each other or the charity’s own processes. When it is done internally, it often seems to have been an exercise in PR to attract funding. It is seen by some as a self-justifying industry.

Suspicions around impact measurement

In short, impact measurement has developed a dubious reputation, and people are suspicious of it. So if you are going to ask charities to do it, it would be useful to be able to counter all of these objections with a single phrase: “Yeah, but it works.”

You would have thought that an industry dedicated to measurement would be uniquely well placed to prove its own efficacy, but it has not panned out that way.

There’s some good circumstantial evidence. After all, the health sector has been using really robust metrics for a good long time, and there is definite evidence that doing so is useful.

But health tends to have nice, easy, binary metrics which can be used to test the efficacy of interventions – such as, but not limited to, “Is this bloke still breathing?” And in any case, evidence from one field is notoriously hard to impose in another. So those trying to get the sector to change its ways need to show charities that doing so will help them.
So why isn’t there any evidence of the value of measurement?

To find the answer & read the FULL article visit:


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