The Common Approach to Impact Measurement is working towards better impact measurement for social purpose organizations.
By developing flexible, community-driven standards, our aim is to change the underpinnings of impact measurement away from a primary focus on the impact measurement needs of foundations, grantmakers and impact investors. Instead, we are committed to centering impact measurement on the needs of operating charities, nonprofits and social-purpose businesses and those they serve.
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In 2015, the Government of Ontario conducted a series of consultations that resulted in Ontario’s Social Enterprise Strategy. Following that, The Social Enterprise Measurement Task Force convened to inform the development of an impact measurement plan. The Task Force recommended a path forward: the Common Approach to Impact Measurement.
Today, Common Approach is a community-driven initiative that’s growing across Canada and beyond.
The Challenge for Social Purpose Organizations
Because of their distinct focus on mission and impact, social purpose organizations have specific information needs with respect to impact measurement:
- To effectively allocate resources to social value creation, which is at the core of their business model (and not just accessory to it)
- To be successful in the day-to-day pursuit of a social mission, they have to continuously improvise, experiment, innovate to stay relevant to the societal problems they aim to tackle.
- To Increase participation and collaboration both externally and internally, because they work with diverse stakeholders and pursue inclusive governance principles.
- To capture impact evidence to support their public and political advocacy activities.
A flexible standard for impact measurement
What makes the Common Approach different is that it is a flexible standard. The notion of “anything goes” means that there’s no “right way” to identify impact measurement indicators. The standard makes it possible to map the impact data in a way that creates sets of aggregated impact. So it is possible to communicate with a wide variety of collaborators and to evaluate and improve impact. A flexible standard supports a community of practice, which means that social purpose organizations can lead the way on social impact measurement.
There are three things the Common Approach holds as the key to social impact measurement. First, a surprising and recurring finding from people who study standards is that flexibility is needed to allow a standard to survive. Secondly, standards are communities, not documents. It’s about building collective action that sees the benefit and brings harmony to what we’re doing. Finally, the third thing is to make it possible for it to be adopted. Meet people where they are – and ratchet up the rigour later.
Adoption has to be easy, but simple is hard. It requires bringing together the collective knowledge and creating a movement of social purpose organizations, data platforms, funders and impact investors, trainers and consultants. We are making a fresh start by building on work that’s been happening for decades. The Common Approach is research-based and evidenced informed. However, it’s also a community-driven effort to make it possible to develop a standard that works for social purpose organizations and their funders and investors.
The Common Approach theory of change is rooted in the belief that impact measurement can be improved by it more relevant to social purpose organizations (SPOs).
We believe that in order to address this problem, some systemic shifts to the ecosystem of SPOs are needed. By drawing on existing and ongoing work in this space to develop standards that balance flexibility and uniformity, we believe this change can be realized.