The Pathfinder Pilot is testing how the Common Approach Standards work across networks of social purpose organizations. The understanding gained from this Pilot will help us further develop the standards into flexible, community-driven best practices and encourage the adoption of better impact measurement practices globally.

Pathfinder Pilot learnings

Common Foundations: Good enough for what?

We say that the Common Foundations articulate a minimum standard of impact measurement. Our self-assessment can help social purpose organizations (SPOs) determine if their impact practice meets that minimum standard. It is about being good enough rather than great.

The question is: good enough for what?

Intended use:
Good enough to claim, “We do impact measurement.”

If you can answer “yes” to all the Common Foundation self-assessment questions, we think your organization’s impact measurement is good enough to claim that you do impact measurement. For a “yes,” we’ll take anything. If your answer is “ya, sort of” or “ya, but,” that’s fine. As long as there’s any sort of “ya” or “yes” in your answer, your organization meets the minimum level of impact practice to reasonably call what you do impact measurement.

One SPO who we interviewed about their experience with the self-assessment articulated this perfectly.

When I said, “yes,” that meant, “not completely”. Like, I have my chart plan of the project, for example. And I have indicators. So when I read the question, I thought of these. But we also need to improve them. I can’t say “no” because we have something—but it needs to improve.” (Omelnisaa, Shelldale Farms)

Exactly! This is what we mean by good enough. We love, her phrase, “I can’t say “‘no” because we have something.” If you have something, say yes even if you know that it needs improving.

Rationale: A minimum standard is useful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, organizations need a minimum level of impact practice already in place to benefit from the Common Approach Standards. Common Foundations is that minimum. Secondly, there are many different ways to do impact measurement. At their foundation, they all have certain things in common. These are those foundations. Articulating that foundation helps to talk about impact measurement in a general common way without getting into details of any specific tool or nuances about levels of evidence.

Possible use
Good enough to start using impact measurement software.

For this purpose, your “yes” should include the phrase, “and it’s working for us.” For example, question 2.2 of the Common Approach self-assessment asks you to answer yes or no to the statement, “We have identified relevant qualitative and/or quantitative indicators that reflect the progress and change we want to achieve.” Your answer will hopefully be, “Yes, and they’re working for us.”

It may be that your answer is closer to “Yes, but…” or Yes, sort of…”. In this case, it would be worth stopping to consider the software you are using or planning to use. Most software makes changing your impact measurement indicators easy. In this case, you don’t need to wait!

If your software makes it very difficult to change your indicators, you might consider taking some time to get your impact measures to where you want them to be before investing energy in software onboarding.

Inappropriate use
Good enough, given the age or size of your organization.
Good enough, given what you want to prove and to who.

The Common Foundations is not calibrated for different types of organizations or different expectations of standards of evidence. It is not a good tool to help you figure out how your organization’s impact measurement practices compare to peers. It is not the right tool to figure out if your practices will meet the standards of evidence of your audience.

If we were to use a swimming analogy, the Common Foundations would be the minimum level at which someone can say, “I can swim”. We don’t help you figure out if you could qualify for the Olympics or even if you should try out for the school team. We are asking: can you leave the shallow end? If so, great! You’re swimming. There are other impact measurement standards that are better equipped to help strong “swimmers” assess if they are top calibre.

If you think your organization should be held to a higher standard than the minimum that is set out in the Common Foundations, turn to tools that articulate best practices and gold standards. Consider the SVI principles and standards, the UNDP SDG Impact Standard for Enterprises and BlueMark’s work on evaluating impact reporting.

The Pathfinder Pilot is housed at Social Innovation Canada and is funded by the Government of Canada’s Investment Readiness Program, the Northpine Foundation, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, with additional funding from the McConnell Foundation.

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Published Sept 27, 2023

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