Impact Reporting as a Key Communication Tool

AquaAction Logic Model

Written by Angela de Burger

The Adopting Common Measures program is highlighting key social purpose organizations across Canada and showcasing their impact and the progress they are making towards a more sustainable future for Canadians in keeping with Canada’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Kariann Aarup, VP Program Development and Impact

It’s one thing to know you want to foster positive change for the world, it’s another to determine exactly what you want to do and how to begin. Then there’s a third element: telling, or even better, showing the impact you’ve achieved to inspire even more positive social action on challenging global issues.

Publishing an impact report is one way of sharing your efforts and accomplishments, and AquaAction has found this approach particularly effective.

“It’s always the first document I share with anyone who is new to AquaAction. It gives people a thorough overview of our priorities and the impact our work is having in the water sector,” says Kariann Aarup, VP Program Development and Impact. 

Getting started by taking action

AquaAction sees a future where freshwater is clean, abundant, accessible for all, and managed for the long term. This registered charity was established by the de Gaspe Beaubien Foundation in 2015 to bring an innovation-focused approach and entrepreneurial spirit to the fresh water sector.

“At the outset we created our AquaHacking Challenge program, inspired by the tech sector’s hackathons, which were very effective at engaging young developers to ideate and conceptualize disruptive technologies. In our program, young entrepreneurs develop innovative solutions to some of Canada’s most critical freshwater issues,” says Kariann. “However, we wanted to ensure more than just ideas were the outcome of the program. Instead of an intense 24 hours of hacking, our AquaHacking Challenge is 9 months long and participants are supported throughout by mentors, coaches and on-demand content. We structured the program to ensure the solutions developed are technologically viable, sustainable from a market perspective and have a positive impact on freshwater health. We do everything we can to set future water-focused entrepreneurs up for success.”

Through their experience with this flagship program, which has been deployed in watersheds from coast to coast across Canada, the team realized that when developing highly innovative programs such as the AquaHacking Challenge it is critical to regularly assess and gauge ways to improve on results. They do this by identifying elements that work well in addition to areas that may come up short. 

Continuous improvement

Kariann says, “in a spirit of continuous improvement we closely monitor program results. Therefore, AquaAction was able to identify the next gap that needed filling in the continuum of problem-identification to water-tech solution deployment. These young  pioneering blue-entrepreneurs need peers and to feel that they’re part of a community of changemakers, to keep their motivation level high so they can stay the course through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and their trail-blazing work.” 

This realization led to the creation of the AquaAction Alumni Community for all the participants and winners from the 13 AquaHacking Challenges that have been run in Canada.  

Maintaining close contact with Alumni, it then became apparent that as a unique cohort of water-tech focused start-ups, they had very particular needs to transition their solutions to an implementation stage. If their solutions were going to be deployed and have a measurable, positive impact on freshwater health, accessing the municipal market was key for these enterprises. 

Kariann says, “the established cleantech incubation eco-system was not yet fully focused on this sector. With our impact-driven mission, AquaAction once again did what it does best. We innovated and created a program to fill this gap. The AquaEntrepreneur Quebec program was born, with the explicit objective of enabling municipal pilots for water tech solutions.” 

With the creation of this third pillar in its suite of programs, AquaAction spans the full spectrum of solution development from problem identification in watersheds, through to implementation and commercialisation in the marketplace.

“Our program offerings evolved organically,” says Kariann. “We have a continuous improvement mindset and always aim to respond to the needs of program participants so we can learn and grow with them. Our logic model looks different today (with all three programs included) than it did at the beginning and we think that’s a good thing.”

 

 


 

Impact reporting through output analysis and micro narratives

With a mission to restore freshwater health in North America by engaging talented young innovators, AquaAction is all about creating meaningful impact.

An annual impact report is a powerful way of highlighting their progress in each twelve month period.  

“Our impact report has become an indispensable component of how we tell our story. All year we are head down in our program delivery and then towards the end of a year, we take the opportunity to step back and look at what was achieved in the last 12 months. We ask ourselves, “what wowed us?” If we are wowed, very likely others will be as well. The onus is on us to capture it and tell the story in a captivating way,” says Kariann. “In the 2022 report, we aimed to organize the information by touching on all three pillars of sustainability: social, environmental and economic. We’ve intentionally used many different methods to share information within the report – text, graphics, statistics, photos – ensuring the details can be absorbed by the reader in the way that works best for them.”

“We want to evoke a sense of excitement and possibility with our report,” says Kariann. “It’s absolutely key to relay personal stories that connect to the heart in addition to facts and figures that connect to the head and demonstrate how the micro efforts of many add up to collectively bring about significant change.” 

“When combined, both types of information work together to provide the proof points needed to create an overall sense of hope. We need to inspire agency and empower a new generation of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs,” she says.

To develop the report, AquaAction works with the whole team to gather ‘year in review’ information from the community. “It’s important for everyone on the team to contribute because it’s the story of what we’ve collaboratively accomplished over the past twelve months, and what the participants of our programming have worked so hard to accomplish,” says Kariann.

They begin with a reflection of activities, milestones and accomplishments. In parallel, they distribute a survey to the innovators and entrepreneurs within their Alumni community so they can measure year-over-year differences. Ideas about photos and graphics to illustrate the report are also gathered and noted as part of the process. 

They have determined that the essential elements in their impact report include:

• An organizing principle or framework
• Personal stories (they’re planning to add even more this year!)
• Engaging visuals
• Infographics

Kariann says they are improving their social impact reporting and storytelling every year by thoughtfully approaching the ways in which they share their information. For future editions, “we’re looking for even more ways to visually highlight our results rather than having blocks of text on each page. They’re planning for an even more interactive report this year.

Tracking and measuring impact locally and globally

Since the beginning, AquaAction has collected data and information about the outcomes of their work, as well as the data of the enterprises that have gone through their programming, to ensure their social impact could be tracked over time. Straightforward Excel data sheets, developed in-house, have met their needs to date. 

In 2022, they started linking  outcomes to global impact frameworks such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals; specifically numbers 6 (clean water and sanitation), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 13 (climate action), and 14 (life below water). This information is featured on page 9 of their impact report and includes both stats and tangible examples. Looking forward, they are also aiming to include more Canada-specific targets for their reporting framework. “For us it’s really important to demonstrate how the solutions young innovators are working on help achieve climate, biodiversity and freshwater targets. That’s one of our ultimate goals –  to demonstrate and highlight the measurable and quantifiable positive environmental impact of water-tech solution deployment”, explains Kariann.

Effectively leveraging  the impact report

“Once the impact report is published, we distribute it to stakeholders and share it with our community and the public,” says Kariann. “We’ve also found it to be a useful tool to share our story with people who are new to our work, such as potential funders or members of the media, for example.”

Additionally, the content within the report is easily repurposed to enhance other communication pieces. “The stories told in the impact report as well as the graphic explaining our logic model are often added to slide presentations that we use all year long.” 

“The impact report is our key communication document and we’re working to make it better each and every year,” she concludes. The AquaAction team is currently working on their 2023 impact report, to be released in January 2024. 

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