#26 It's time to spring clean the BS out of your impact data & metrics

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My clients generally get a bit jolted with my approach to measuring impact. Those of us who have been in this space for awhile have been fed a very large quantity of data until we’re more stuffed than a Thanksgiving turkey, yet generally, we’re not really . . . doing much with it. When clients realize this, their eyes pop out a bit.

All. That. Wasted. Time. UUGH.

Often the sheer quantity just makes it overwhelming. I’ve been watching the Marie Kondo show on Netflix, and I feel like the data I dealt with in a few past jobs was like this one guys’ 150 pair and counting shoe collection on there: so expensive, yet so big he just closed the freakin’ door and didn’t wear any of the shoes.

In social impact, we spend tremendous time and money collecting data, but often do very little with it because we then don’t have the time to properly sort through and analyze it. And even when we do analyze it, what are we really doing with that analysis besides perhaps putting it on an annual report?

As much as I’m a consultant, like my new virtual BFF Marie Kondo (jk. Does anyone else WANT to be her friend though?) I’m also a coach and advisor and almost therapist to my clients - because often what we work on together requires tremendous behavior change.

My first question when we work on impact metrics together is always this: What decisions do you need to make in running your organization and what do you need to communicate to others?

Data should help inform decisions and communicate impact in ways that create value to customers, volunteers, funders, employees, and more. That’s it. Everything else is superfluous.

And I also emphasize this: informative data trumps perfect data. Every single time. Unless your customers or funders or board or whomever genuinely care about data that a PhD in stats would stand by (btw, they usually don’t), stop measuring it. Spending time and energy on hundreds or thousands of lines in a spreadsheet gets in the way of stuff they do care about: changing lives. Creating opportunity. Anecdotes and examples and finger-to-the wind spotchecks like net promoter score or quick survey questions that show this.

That said, there are some other things they care about too.

Metric standards may be one of these. From IRIS to GIIN to UNSDGs and more, international standard sets out there make alignment and communication in our space easier, and change more salient at a community or global level. So I always recommend my clients align their impact measurement to these standards. I’ll discuss my approach to that in an upcoming blog post, and check out Blog #23 if you’re wondering “wtf are the UNSDGs?”

Financial sustainability is something they care about too. Just as you’re measuring impact, you need to measure your ability to operate and grow and stay strong as an entity. I’ll also discuss this in an upcoming blog.

But aside from that, learn to meet your new BFF: LEAN DATA. You’ve probably heard of lean startup, which Eric Ries has written quite a bit about. Have you heard of Lean Impact? I help my clients with this approach a lot - doing the smallest possible things to get as much information as you need to drive badass impact and results.

Acumen has a lot of great resources on Lean Impact too, as does the software startup SoPact.

And if (when. Seriously - when) you need someone to guide you in getting rid of the BS in your impact and data strategy at your org, you know where to find me ;)

P.S. Checking out your broader impact metrics strategy in the context of what your customers want and need is 100% a part of every single Impact Tuneup. You’re welcome!