Heather Esper

Talking Metrics: Is Standardization a Dream?

With metrics as such a popular topic of conversation these days it was great to sit down last week at WDI with Caroline Bressan of Calvert Foundation, Rafi Menachem from Grassroots Business Fund (GBF), and Anne Murray from E+Co to discuss the use of metrics by socially oriented businesses. The conversation focused on how they each use metrics within their organizations and what role they see metrics playing in the future.

Given that all three organizations are IRIS compliant, the conversation focused on their push to standardize metrics and move away from relying heavily on anecdotes to report impact. At the same time, there was a strong recognition of the need and desire for outcome metrics to become part of a standardized set of metrics as well. Rafi hinted at this shift early in the discussion by referencing a comment made during a past ANDE metrics conference, noting that if all the anecdotes organizations use to report their impact were actually true, you would think we had solved poverty three times over by now.

The discussion also made clear that we need to change how both internal and external stakeholders view metrics. The overall conversation focused more on collecting metrics for investors, rather than to improve their business models to better meet the needs of their clients. Thus, data collection is largely thought of as a burden. Metrics also were seen as a burden since investors and donors often are inconsistent in what they want to know. During the panel, the organization representatives hinted at a dream of one day collecting only one set of metrics annually. It’s evident that a reeducation of donors and investors is necessary to get to this this dream. I also wondered how organizations’ metrics will change after IRIS is live. Will these organizations stop measuring the metrics they always have -i.e. GBF uses iPAL and E+Co has a set of 34 metrics – or will they by default further contribute to their investees’ metrics burden by requiring an additional set of measurements?

An interesting area to pay attention to in the future will be the data collection process, especially as organizations begin to collect the same metrics across their portfolios using the IRIS standards. There are a number of barriers to overcome in the actual process of data collection regarding collecting information from rural areas on a regular basis. Some organizations are already testing unique ways to improve the ease of data collection by collecting data electronically. For example GBF is using SMS with some of their investees to collect data and E+Co is in the early stages of using similar technologies. Another constraint surrounding data collection yet to be addressed is funding. This gets back to the idea of educating donors and investors, specifically on the data collection costs associated with the metrics they request.

Stay tuned for Calvert Foundation’s social impact report coming out later this year, E+Co’s annual publication on its 34 metrics and check out GBF’s impact here.

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Impact Assessment, Investing
impact investing, William Davidson Institute