Measuring Social Impact One Phase at a Time

Image by Jakub Pabis

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.

Big things can happen when a spark of an idea takes hold. Cate Lawrence and Maryline Chocat from AlterGo saw this happen first-hand, when their separate pursuits converged, revealing a shared vision for social impact measurement.

Maryline, deeply engaged in collaborating with the organization’s partners, aspired to convey more profound insights  into the impact of support and funding, transcending conventional metrics like participation numbers. Simultaneously, Cate, a newly integrated staff member, was motivated to mobilize her knowledge and experience in social impact tracking and measurement to improve the effectiveness of the organization’s training programs. They started talking about their respective initiatives, revealing a shared enthusiasm for social impact practices, which led to the idea of instilling a culture of impact measurement within the organization. 

“We decided to dive in deep, with everyone in the whole organization learning and participating in a social impact measurement initiative,” says Maryline.

                                                                      Cate Lawrence and Maryline Chocat, AlterGo

About AlterGo

AlterGo is a Montreal-based charity, connecting over 140 member organizations focused on universal accessibility and the inclusion of people with disabilities in the areas of sport, leisure and culture. Adding to their service offerings:

• AlterGo Association, founded in 1975, focusing on advancing the inclusion of those with disabilities using the drivers of sport leisure and culture for the island of Montreal.
• AlterGo Événements was founded 1984 and is most well-known for the Défi sportif AlterGo, the largest annual multisport competition in Canada.
• AlterGo Expertise was created in 1986 to to support organizations throughout the province become more inclusive and become leaders in universal accessibility.

Paving the way for creating meaningful impacts

In 2017, AlterGo, supported by Innoweave and guided by Lara Evoy and social impact coaches from Garrow&Evoy, defined a strategic vision aimed at fostering the social change necessary for achieving universal accessibility everywhere, for everyone. To do so, the team outlined their theory of change based on four key stages, which they call their social transformation schema:

• Discover universal accessibility
• Understand universal accessibility
• Contribute to universal accessibility
• Champion universal accessibility

For each stage, comprehensive indicators were designed to measure AlterGo’s impact in advancing the overarching goal. However, upon implementation, the team recognized the need to refine their social impact measurement approach. This led to the realization that a second project phase was required to ensure the tools developed were easily understandable and applicable to the entire organization.

Small steps to achieve big outcomes

In 2022, Maryline heard that funding support for accessing expert coaches in this subject area might be available again through Innoweave. They applied and were accepted, so in January 2023 the team at AlterGo began working with social impact coaches, Véronique Carbonneau and Lara Evoy from Garrow&Evoy, to develop their indicator framework. They anticipate it will be a multi-year project, with each phase building on the previous one.

To launch the project, AlterGo’s Expertise team identified the training programs as a promising initiative to start with in order to create potential indicators for two of the four stages of the theory of change: (1) understand and (2) contribute to universal accessibility. To be able to enhance the impact of their services on participants, they decided to measure two important aspects: the application of the knowledge acquired and the behavioural changes observed as a result of the organization’s training and awareness-raising activities.

They initially tried to develop indicators based on the social transformation schema and the Expertise team’s projects. However, they found that transitioning the information from their small test initiative into indicators that would work for the whole organization was a challenge. They explain, “we turned in circles a bit when trying to work out the language for clear indicators that would work across our various programs and activities.” 

Now they are further along and “once possible indicators are identified for a stage, we thoroughly test to ensure they work for each of the different areas of our work,” says Cate. “Each team shares their insights and feedback regarding their testing period, including which indicators worked well and which ones need to be adapted or further developed.”

The process is going well and Cate says they are now in the process of identifying key indicators for each program or project and how they relate to the theory of change.

Creating a culture of social impact measurement champions

Through this initiative, AlterGo is working towards building a culture of social impact throughout the entire team. The experience of participating in the pilot project allowed a number of staff members to become champions of the initiative and share their learnings with other teams. 

Strategic plans and new projects now include consideration for impact measurement. Additionally, mid-project check-ins include a review of the progress being made. Cate says that staff team members are regularly asking themselves, and each other, insightful questions about the what, how and why of what they do. 

Maryline and Cate note that it’s a learning journey – sometimes they take two steps forward and one step back, but they are looking at their processes with new eyes and taking time to reflect on what’s happening so adjustments can be made as needed. 

Seeing the impact of their programs in the community

With tools, knowledge and experience in implementing social impact measurement practices in hand, Maryline and Cate would now like to expand on what they have learned with the Expertise team in the other sectors. They already have some ideas of areas to explore from anecdotal stories heard from their target audiences.

For example, Maryline shares a story that comes out of their Défi sportif AlterGo program. This annual sporting event takes place over ten days and includes more than 5,000 athletes of all levels and abilities, and includes the participation of many schools. One teacher shared that they have created a specific physical education class at their school so students can train throughout the year to participate in Défi sportif AlterGo. This story led the team to want to explore more thoroughly the possible impacts the event has on students’ health and self-esteem. 

The team at AlterGo is thrilled to see this positive social impact occurring, with the Défi sportif AlterGo program being the inspiration for additional community support being provided for youth.

Next steps: Sharing their results

As their social impact measurement and tracking initiative progresses, they plan to share the results through a number of communications channels. At this early stage in their process, the topic is a standing item at team meetings and they are looking into adding a section to their staff newsletter. 

In time, they foresee the information being shared through other channels such as reports to funders, annual reports and presentations.

A phrase worth repeating

We are working together to improve, prove and learn – this is the most important thing Cate and Maryline have learned from their social impact measurement coaches. With their focus on social impact tracking and measurement, they are excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for AlterGo to create an even better future.

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