Impact evaluation is one of the mountain-high tasks in working life that, when viewed from a distance, may cause you anxiety. It can seem like an insurmountable conquest before you have taken a single step.
How to get started?
A huge and costly task!
Everybody says you must. But to what avail?
My best advice to you is: get a grip and start digging. Start surveying the land even before you let researchers enlighten you about the different sides to the matter, before economists start telling that ‘your calculation is all wrong’, or before consultants have time to throw a terminology web at you in which logical frameworks, Theories of Change and impact chains stumble against each other*.
1. Tell about the problem you’re solving, the people whose lives you will affect
Who will directly benefit from your activities: is it the small-town girls at risk of being excluded, the long-term unemployed middle-aged men in the province, the southern coastal area at the Baltic Sea or the single moms in the slums of Nairobi. Tell us how many they are. Tell us how many others these people influence (in good or bad), about all the places they spend their lives in. Tell us how many people live on the coasts of the Baltic Sea and how many species of fish there are.
You do not need to prove right away that your operations will bring savings worth a hundred and fifty thousand to the city of Imatra and tax revenues worth half a million to the state, instead, you should describe how you are starting a pattern of paying it forward.
2. Tell us how much and how many
I was tipped off on the communications of a Singaporean restaurant, Dignity Kitchen, that trains and employs mentally handicapped people.
It looks good, a clear mission is broken down into figures; into acts and functions. You can take a longer leap still, if you can express in figures exactly that phase of operations in which you create the highest value added: If you are aiming at a greater impact by buying artefacts manufactured out of recycled material in line with the Fair Trade rules, tell e.g. how many people you have helped enter into working life, how many children they, in turn, have to feed and send to school, how many kilos of material was recycled. If, on the other hand, you intend to share the profit with others, at least tell how much money was distributed and to how many, what they did with the money, and how many additional euros were thereby leveraged into the operations.
3. Tell the story of your beneficiary
Let some of your beneficiaries tell about their lives and routines: about people and self-confidence. What was changed, what was left behind, what new things happened, what dreams they still have. The goal is to describe change through a story and tell how many lives one person can change.
Great, you’ve taken the first steps! Use that in your communications. Most likely you are much closer to the frameworks and impact chains, too.
* They are all crimes I have been guilty of in those roles!