Blog Insights
Overcome the Challenge of Defining Impact

Defining and measuring impact is a tough nut to crack. In addition to thinking about “mushy” or qualitative complex concepts, the mission-driven industry has no set rules, so approaches and terminology can differ majorly from one organization to another, making communication and collaboration more difficult. In our recent webinar, “Measuring Impact: A Recipe for Mission-driven Work”, we shared how we approach impact, challenges we are looking to overcome, and a framework for building an impact measurement foundation to help you overcome the challenge of defining impact.

Tackling the challenges involved with impact

If you’ve ever tried to measure or define your organization’s “impact,” it is very likely that you have experienced some challenges along the way. Identifying why impact can be difficult to tackle is an excellent way to figure out where you should focus your efforts. Here are some of the most common challenges and a few ways to tackle them.

  1. Measuring impact means measuring complex concepts, such as “increase a feeling of inclusivity in a community” or “improve overall well-being.” 
  2. It also means accounting for other factors that might have influenced the element you’re trying to measure, including things outside your work. 
  3. It is long-term and requires consistent and dedicated work over months and years.
  4. The phrase “impact” is increasingly vague and often misused to imply small changes or to talk about the “outcomes” of an action.

Establishing rules, approaches, and terminology for your organization will help stay within the parameters of the impact your work will have on the world. Creating a framework and consistent tool will help your organization stay on track and allow you to revisit and revise measuring your impact. And then lastly, starting your impact measurement by focusing on the opportunities the product, program, or effort you are making may have on the world will help you tie together the various elements needed to be successful.

Building a foundation for measuring impact

Because terminology is such an important part of overcoming the challenges of measuring impact, begin by developing a shared understanding of what it means to your organization. At Forum One, we define impact for our work as “a significant, positive change as a result of an action’s outcomes.” Understanding the differences and connections between outcomes and impact is a key element of becoming comfortable with the overall causal chain.

Starting with where the biggest opportunities for impact are, based on your organization’s definition, can help guide you in determining how to best approach having the most impact. To do this, we develop Impact Opportunity Statements.

Developing Impact Opportunity Statements

  1. Collect and spell out your mission, organizational goals, audience, product goals, and existing products.
  2. Review your mission and goals and discuss how you typically approach solving challenges. This will help you later on in the process when you are trying to make sure your statements are relevant to how your organization goes about its work.
  3. Brainstorm answers to the question: “What change are we hoping to see in the world?”
  4. Review your answers and check that your audiences are included in each answer. If they aren’t, go ahead and add them in.
  5. Review your answers a second time to make sure they include where your current products or programs are missing the mark. Make sure your answers account for them.
  6. Determine which of your answers are most applicable to your mission, organizational goals, and product goals. 

And voilà: you’ve now got your Impact Opportunity Statements!

To dig into the above steps further and for more tips, watch our on-demand “Measuring Impact: A Recipe for Mission-driven Work” today. The webinar provides advice and insights about how you can build impact opportunity statements for your organization.

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