Meet consultants Cathy Lang, Kerri Klein, Laurie Ringaert, and Garth Yule. They have incorporated Common Foundations into their work with social purpose organizations. By using the Common Foundations, they are advancing a social impact measurement standard for Canada.

Common Foundations: Case Study

Four approaches to impact evaluation

Laurie Ringaert is an impact evaluator who believes that impact means different things to different people. Her process is to take the time to step back and consider what the impact could be, rather than assuming what the impact should be. Similarly, strategist Garth Yule recalls a recent Theory of Change workshop he facilitated for a UK not-for-profit. Through an outcomes mapping session, the group gained clarity. They were able to assess how they could impact independent journalism and democratic news. They identified the indicators for longer-term impacts, making it possible to take a strategic approach to measurement.

Social impact consultant, Cathy Lang, sees capacity and resources in the social sector as challenges to evaluation. She sees evaluation becoming more professionalized, but has concerns that it might veer far from the design and developmental processes. She notes that the learning that can be gained from evaluation might not get shared beyond (or even within) the organization. When (consulting) cooperative founder, Kerri Klein, was working in not-for-profit development, she experienced a “dance of deception.”

Compliance meant that organizations pretended they had answers and funders pretended to believe them. In reality, the impacts that result from most social impact projects are nuanced and offer opportunities for individual and organizational growth. Therefore, Kerri takes an iterative approach to evaluation that follows a system of reflection> action> learning> adaptation. The method allows groups to embed strategic learning into the process of evaluation.

Similarly, Cathy’s training in adult education and social work means that her approach to evaluation links to overall program design and takes into account organizational and community contexts. She notes that effective practice promotes community vitality. Seeing the big-picture context allows social purpose organizations and funders and investors to link their evaluation with action, and communicate results.

By working in a participatory, and culturally and contextually responsive way, Laurie works with social purpose organizations to discover unexpected, emergent and exciting layers of impact. She views impact evaluators as practitioners who can identify the real impacts of a project through the process, rather than just looking for ways to demonstrate the accomplishment of the pre-set goals. Garth’s approach is also highly collaborative. He finds that understanding the context of day-to-day work supports developing a way to achieve the broader impact that social purpose organizations are aiming for. Kerri cites critical reflection (Rolfe et al. 2011) as a way to move groups from “what happened” to deeper understanding. Using the framework of “What? So what? Now what?” Kerri helps groups to move evaluation from merely transactional (what the funder needs to know) to transformational.

The Common Foundations in practice

Besides helping social purpose organizations with social impact, Cathy pays attention to ways she can work to advance the social sector and systems change. Common Foundations offer a way to help social purpose organizations build universal practices that represent the fundamental steps involved in planning and evaluating social impact. Cathy sees the efficacy of the Common Foundations as a tool that might prompt groups to ask themselves, “What are we trying to achieve?”

As a tool, Laurie sees the value of the Common Foundations as helping social purpose organizations to frame the steps for evaluation projects. Laurie also notes the potential for scaling the data collection up through the use of data portals. She stresses that Common Foundations could change how organizations and funders in Canada understand impacts. For Laurie, a system where everyone could be using the same high-level metrics increases the opportunity for every organization to contribute to the whole system of change.

Kerri describes the Common Approach as rigorous, consistent and adaptable. She sees that evaluation practitioners could use Common Foundations to integrate strategic learning into their work in a more focused way. For Kerri, the data collection possibilities might address “data overwhelm.” She notes that organizations are collecting data, but lack the tools and resources to analyze their results. Next level is the potential to contextualize and assess collective social impacts across Canada.

A final idea from Garth is to include Common Foundations in presentations to groups who may be new to impact measurement, are starting a new measurement initiative, or are building on their existing measurement capacity. He believes that a standard for impact evaluation is essential to the process of developing mission, vision, strategy, and operational plans for every organization regardless of size.

Transformational. How the organization understands its role in creating sustained positive change.
Kerri Klein

Director, SHIFT Collaborative

Acknowledgement: Thanks to the Canadian Community Economic Development Network for this content.

Margerit Roger

Margerit Roger

Margerit works as a program planner, evaluator and trainer in the social purpose sector to highlight the critical role of service-providing organizations in addressing social challenges. Deeply influenced by her experiences with adult literacy learners, newcomers,...

Rachel Berdan

Rachel Berdan

As the Social Enterprise Program Manager & Coach at Pillar Nonprofit Network Rachel is part of the Libro Social Enterprise Incubator and Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network. Rachel is a storyteller at heart. Prior to Pillar, she worked with B Lab and made...

Kerri Klein

Kerri Klein

Kerri worked for almost 15 years in non-profit and government organizations that were seeking ways to effect change. She worked in roles where she both sought funds and granted funds, which allowed her to see both sides of the evaluation process. Together with four...

Cathy Lang

Cathy Lang

Cathy is a program designer, researcher, strategic planner, business developer, and non-profit sector-builder. She has coached numerous social enterprises in designing and testing their social value propositions. She began her career as a social worker with a strong...

Laurie Ringaert

Laurie Ringaert

Laurie spent much of her early career as a researcher. About ten years ago she applied for a position at Seattle King County Public Health as an evaluator and the 'light went on and she made the shift from researcher to impact evaluator. In 2015, she started Change...

Bryn Sadownik

Bryn Sadownik

Fifteen years ago, Bryn was applying skills developed through her Master’s program in Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University (SFU) to work as a consultant and researcher. When the opportunity to lead a new pilot program in impact assessment...

Social Enterprise Institute

Social Enterprise Institute

The Social Enterprise Institute offers two courses – the Common Foundations of Impact Measurement, a six-part introductory video series (free), and a comprehensive online course ($350), designed for social purpose organizations that are serious about social impact...

Garth Yule

Garth Yule

Garth has a degree in communication and community economic development and worked passionately with environmental non-profits and university students’ unions through the early 2000s. Garth previously used that expertise to guide his work at Junxion Strategy, to engage...

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