Common Approach is working towards more relevant impact measurement for social purpose organizations through developing flexible standards of impact measurement that are created for and governed by social purpose organizations. Common Approach is composed of four related standards, one of which is the Common Foundations. This is the next in a series of posts exploring how the Common Foundations work with existing tools and frameworks. 

Common Foundations

Common Foundations and Sustainable Livelihoods

The Common Foundations reiterate the essential practices that are common to many different approaches and frameworks. The Common Foundations are, therefore, compatible with many other approaches and frameworks, such as the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. Here, we explore how the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework, promoted by Sustainable Livelihoods Canada, dovetails with the Common Foundations.

What are the Common Foundations?

A hand stacks a building block on top of a pile.The Common Fondations are a set of five essential practices that define a minimum standard for impact measurement. These are:

  • Describe your intended change
  • Use indicators
  • Collect useful information
  • Gauge performance and impact
  • Communicate and use results.

What is Sustainable Livelihoods?

The Sustainable Livelihoods approach works with individuals and communities to demonstrate the effects of social and economic exclusion on people’s lives and capture learning about the assets and strategies that can support them to build resilience and move out of poverty.

Grounded in evidence-based international development research, the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework explores four key livelihood dimensions:

  1. The “Vulnerability Context,” which creates and perpetuates poverty.
  2. Assets, the building blocks of a sustainable livelihood, explore six areas: basic needs, connections, money, identity, skills/knowledge, and health. (See Figure 1 below.)
  3. Stages of livelihood development through which people cycle as they build assets.
  4. The policy and institutional context that may determine people’s access to resources and prospects for success.

This highly participatory model has evolved as a result of 20 years of Canadian practitioners’ collaborative learning facilitated by Sustainable Livelihoods Canada.

Sustainable Livelihood’s coaching tools engage people in building the conditions (a foundation of basic needs) and capacity (skills and behaviours) to participate and take charge of their futures. Social purpose organizations across Canada are increasingly using the framework to monitor progress, document impact, and strengthen outcomes.

How does Sustainable Livelihoods map to the Common Foundations?

The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework includes all five essential practices of the Common Foundations.

Describe your intended change

Sustainable Livelihoods offers front-line staff a framework for thinking about change. It provides a holistic one-to-one coaching practice that facilitates powerful conversations with people benefitting from their services. These conversations focus on their current strengths and what may be holding them back. All stakeholders gain a common language and a pathway for participants to identify practical asset-building strategies, solve complex problems, and build a foundation for a sustainable livelihood.

Use indicators

The Sustainable Livelihoods tools provide a “buffet” of indicators describing asset building in each area over the continuum of livelihood development that can be tailored in a co-design process for specific programs, organizations, or communities. Many of the indicators relate to the determinants of health and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They are noted by social purpose organizations as congruent with findings they have already documented in their programs.

Click to view larger.

Figure 1. Asset Map Guide. What is an asset? Assets are building blocks for your future. Sustainable Livelihoods takes a positive, well-rounded approach looking at all your strengths. Assets can be what you know, your lived experience, your skills and abilities, and your learning and training.

Collect useful information

The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework is strength-based: identifying outcomes that are important to people living on low incomes and supporting a constructive way of building on strengths. It offers organizations key information about how to strengthen their programs and gather evidence to tell a highly textured story about their work and impact.
Sustainable Livelihoods Canada has piloted retrospective pre/post outcomes measurement surveys with the intent of transforming qualitative observations of change into quantitative measurements that can support comparisons among programs.

Gauge performance and impact

The Sustainable Livelihoods tools allow for simple baseline documentation of assets at designated intervals over time to gauge both the impact of front-line coaching and people’s own livelihood strategies. Asset-mapping practice creates common measures of asset development that enable people and staff to chart their own progress using the Sustainable Livelihoods tools and other data collected by programs.

The Sustainable Livelihoods model also considers changes in people’s conditions and capacity for participation. An externally validated tool, the Sustainable Livelihoods continuum offers identifiable “measures” of livelihoods progress over time.

This combination of qualitative and quantitative data collection is based on: solid monitoring processes, participant engagement, staff reporting through case management, and other mixed-method evaluation strategies.

Communicate and use results

The model supports a highly graphic and interactive simplified report format that is engaging and relevant to stakeholders to enhance the practical impact of evaluation for continuous program improvement. Sustainable Livelihoods Canada’s mandate to gather and steward centrally aggregated data and actively learn supports the validation and sharing of promising practices in outcomes documentation.

How the Common Foundations and Sustainable Livelihoods help users

The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework fits well with the Common Foundations. It guides practitioners through all the Common Foundation practices, encouraging evaluative thinking and strengthening coaching. It addresses external forces that undermine livelihood progress, incorporates an anti-oppression analysis, and supports collective advocacy.

The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework offers a cost-effective evaluation solution for social purpose organizations seeking to document their outcomes. The Sustainable Livelihoods tools can be used by anyone; evaluation expertise is not necessary.

The Sustainable Livelihoods practice fulfils the Common Foundations-mandated systematic planning and implementation of data collection. Stakeholders are engaged in designing and developing a process and timelines for data gathering, analysis, and reporting that fit with their budget and capacity.

With its focus on people and the context of their lives, the Sustainable Livelihoods approach affirms the Common Foundations ethos “nothing about us without us.” It actively engages participants in naming the outcomes that are important to them and gives them a voice in the ethics and rollout of evaluation.

Already, Sustainable Livelihoods is building common evaluation capacity, with 50+ evaluators and partners in Sustainable Livelihoods Canada’s national community of practice. By practicing the Common Foundations using the common language and tools of a framework such as Sustainable Livelihoods, social purpose organizations can contribute more effectively not only to individual and community change but also to field building.

Does your impact measurement meet the Common Foundations minimum standard?

As growing movements for impact measurement in Canada, the Common Approach and Sustainable Livelihoods are well-aligned. The Common Foundation’s essential practices are highly useful to organizations seeking a minimum standard for impact measurement to underpin their work. The Sustainable Livelihoods framework is a promising expression of those standards. If you are implementing the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework, then meet the minimum standard of the Common Foundations.

Take the Common Foundations self-assessment today to find out! Organizations that meet the standard are invited to display the Common Approach logo on their website. All of the resources and articles on the site are free to share within any given sector.

Want to learn more? Sustainable Livelihoods Canada joined us for a webinar on Wednesday, March 22, 2023 where we discussed how the Common Foundations and the Sustainable Livelihoods approach work together. Watch the webinar recording here.


The Common Approach acknowledges Catherine Lang for authoring this paper. Catherine Lang is principal of C. Lang Consulting, a champion for the Common Approach to Impact Measurement, and an associate of Sustainable Livelihoods Canada. Catherine engaged with Mary Ferguson and Janet Murray of Sustainable Livelihoods Canada to develop the ideas presented here.

Updated on Mar 23, 2023

Published on Feb 15, 2021

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