Creating Capacity for Social Impact Measurement

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.

“You could say that social impact measurement is a passion project of mine,” says Isabelle Stein, Manager, Skills at Impact ON. “I learned of the concept while studying for my MBA in Sustainable Development in 2012, researched it thoroughly in 2023 and knew it was a must-do for my organization.”

Isabelle Stein, Manager, Skills at Impact ON

Her CEO, Julien Geremie, agreed and created dedicated time for Isabelle to learn as much as possible and then develop an approach for implementing a process. 

Broadening the picture

Marking their 60th year in 2024, Impact ON is a non-profit social enterprise that supports mission- and impact-driven businesses throughout Ontario. 

“By looking at a broader picture of progress and achievement, we can create deeper levels of impact that benefit the communities where we live and work,” says Isabelle. “It’s not just about numbers and checkboxes, we want to know that the work we’re doing is having a lasting effect on people’s lives. Developing a method for identifying and precisely defining the kind of social impact we want to achieve, as well as how we will measure progress, has been a focus area for me over the last year.”

Isabelle says that funders typically ask for reports that include facts and figures to demonstrate success in a program or service. However, increasingly, funders are expanding their expectations for additional results reports – the kind that shows the depth of impact that is brought about by work being done by mission-driven organizations. She says that is a very good thing for people and the planet.

Getting started

Impact ON’s starting point for creating its social impact framework was developing a theory of change. It began with assessing both their new and existing programs and services, including the tools and processes that were in place, to determine how they could take into account a larger number of SDGs. They are now creating indicators that detail their goals and will lead to determining how to measure their progress. 

To support Impact ON’s social impact journey, Isabelle gained knowledge in several different ways, including:

• Joining the Social Impact Community of Practice hosted by Social Innovation Canada: an 8-session nationwide discussion around how organizations can effectively track, measure and report progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
• Learning about global social impact frameworks such as the Common Approach to Impact Measurement, the UN’s SDG Impact Standards, the Canadian Indicator Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals, and the SDG Action Manager developed by B Lab and the United Nations Global Compact.

One learning that has been pivotal for Impact ON is recognizing that when they reference global frameworks, indicators may need to be localized so they are meaningful to their context. They have committed time within their process to ensure the indicators developed are relevant to the people and places they serve.

Double the benefit

The social impact measurement tool they create will be used by Impact ON as a way of assessing the organization’s progress on its strategic goals. Additionally, this work will benefit all of the people and groups they work with throughout Ontario as well, since they also plan to expand their offerings of information sessions, workshops, and personalized support to impact-driven businesses who want to engage in this process. 

“Our impact measurement approach is inspired by the most efficient and recognized tools available,” says Isabelle. “We have incorporated a robust, enterprise-focused framework in a user-friendly environment to combine relevance and ease of use, making impact measurement almost fun! What better way for us to fulfill our mission and achieve meaningful social impact?”

Isabelle is excited about the future, envisioning an additional opportunity for Impact ON to “integrate social impact measurement practices into the entrepreneurship programs we offer to social entrepreneurs, highlighting their importance and effectiveness. This will help increase the capacity for social impact measurement even further throughout the province.”

Planning for the future

As Impact ON implements its social impact measurement framework, Isabelle plans for it to continually evolve in response to what they learn along the way. 

“It will be an iterative cycle as we see how it works on a day-to-day basis,” says Isabelle. “We will assess, improve, evaluate, and then do it all over again.”

A new Impact ON strategic plan is in the works for a 2025 start date and this initiative is anticipated to be reflected in the document, creating a path for social impact measurement to be firmly centered in the organization’s approach for years to come. 

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