Social Impact Assessment includes the processes of analysing, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences, both positive and negative, of planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, projects) and any social change processes invoked by those interventions. Its primary purpose is to bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment.- IAIA
Social impact measurement has emerged as a key tool in validating and reporting the impact social enterprises create as a part of their mission. This has assumed high importance especially for social impact accelerators and impact investors who support and invest in social businesses.
While much has been written on the topic of impact assessment or measurement, I wish to discuss the role of storytelling in this process.
Current Social Impact Measurement Practices
Social entrepreneurship is an emerging sector in India. This means most social enterprises are early stage ventures with a majority of them having been established between 2010 and 2015.
Source: British Council
Most social enterprises lack the resources or the know how on carrying out robust impact measurement. Generally those who receive funding- grants or equity employ some kind of impact measurement techniques. Even in such situations, impact measurement is carried out by the funders to track the progress of their investees.
“We at Haqdarshak have built in house impact measurement indexes and matrix for measuring impact on ground. We also engaged Acumen lean data survey team to do a thorough on ground survey of our haqdarshak entrepreneurs and the citizens impacted. I think that was great validation of our work as well as gave us very good insights into what we are doing well and more importantly where we can improve. I think overall as an on ground social enterprise we would love to engage more with such high quality impact assessment tools and organizations provided they are in our budget and there is overall assurance on data privacy; the latter is one of the biggest concerns for most orgs like us.” – Aniket Doegar, CEO & Co-founder, Haqdarshak
One of the biggest concerns related to impact measurement is whether it captures real outcomes playing out on the ground and if they are directly caused by a social enterprise’s intervention.
For example, if patients from LifeSpring Hospital demonstrate improved health indicators in mothers and babies, is it because of their visits to LifeSpring (causation) or is it because of another aligned factor—the family cares about their health, so they both visit LifeSpring and engage in a number of other healthy activities, like drinking safe water (correlation). – written by Katie Hill, India Portfolio Manager at Acumen Fund in a post.
Why Storytelling Can Be An Effective Tool In Social Impact Measurement
Social impact means changing the status quo of people and transitioning them to a better way of life. Each such transition is a story of fight, hope and learning. Storytelling captures and presents these stories. It is a very powerful tool to get qualitative insights into the social change taking place through a social enterprise’s intervention. It tells human stories behind the data points.
A Simple Use Case
Let’s take the above example of LifeSpring Hospital. Survey data may show improved health indicators in mothers and babies treated from the hospital. However even the most sophisticated questionnaire may not be able to conclusively establish extraneous factors instrumental in this outcome.
Let’s follow a storytelling approach. Suppose we gather a focus group of a few women who have shown improved health indicators. We then engage in a discussion with them to understand their habits, practices and environment at home. This activity will throw some really interesting insights. For example it may emerge that most of the women in the group warm up their babies by swaddling them. This is simply because of their traditional knowledge. It means that the Hospital is not directly instrumental for the improved health indicators. The Hospital may then use these findings to include neonatal care training to mothers in their services. (This is just for discussion purposes. I am not suggesting that Hospital does not have adequate mechanisms to get these insights.)
The above approach can be attributed to qualitative research techniques. However the host of the discussion draws out stories and anecdotes from her subjects. Similarly, one-to-one interviews with select women can help the Hospital gain insights and know their personal stories.
Stories Are Supplementary To Data
Storytelling focuses on knowing your beneficiaries as people and hearing their stories. Clearly, it’s impossible to hear stories of all your beneficiaries and that’s not the intent. However, these stories provide you with valuable insights, innovative ideas and first-hand opinions of your end users, partners and other important stakeholders in your impact process.
Stories induce dynamism, imagination and provocation that numbers in a survey fail to provide. Having said that, I am not suggesting that storytelling is a better alternative or a substitute to data collection. Instead storytelling is supplementary to impact data.
Measuring the social impact of its operations on target beneficiaries is always a data heavy and number crunching exercise for a social enterprise. Be that as it may, there is a need for storytelling in this to induce dynamism, imagination and provocation. Stories will ultimately lead to newer ideas and insights.