A surprising new breakthrough is emerging in the social sector: A handful of innovative organizations have developed web-based systems for reporting the performance, measuring the outcomes, and coordinating the efforts of hundreds or even thousands of social enterprises within a field. These nascent efforts carry implications well beyond performance measurement, foreshadowing the possibility of profound changes in the vision and effectiveness of the entire nonprofit sector. This paper, based on six months of interviews and research by FSG Social Impact Advisors, examines twenty efforts to develop shared approaches to performance, outcome, or impact measurement across multiple organizations. The accompanying appendices include a short description of each system and four more in-depth case studies.
Shared measurement involves charities and social enterprises that work on similar issues - and towards similar goals - reaching a common understanding of what to measure in terms of the outcomes and impact of their work, and developing the systems to do so. It can refer to any approach or tool used by more than one organisation to measure impact, and also to the process of shared measurement - which includes establishing shared outcomes, engagement and collaboration, and the pooling and comparing of data and results. Figure 1 shows the different stages of development of shared measurement approaches.
The economic crisis is creating huge pressure for charities to demonstrate their impact, and is pushing the government and private funders to target their funding to achieve maximum impact. Measurement remains a real challenge for many charities, with pressure from commissioners and funders and resistance from frontline staff. But if done well, impact measurement can be a benefit rather than a burden. We have identified six organisations at the forefront of charity impact measurement in the UK and the US. These ‘bright spots’ are committed to high quality impact measurement and have reaped the rewards of putting it into practice.