News and Comment

What’s your Corporate Responsibility value? What, how and why to measure impact

Wednesday 19 July 2017

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How can you know what impact your corporate responsibility activity made? Can you know what’s changed because of what you’re doing?

These questions can lead many down a rabbit hole of thinking programme evaluation and impact measurement is daunting – if not impossible.

As a research consultancy, we’ve heard many thoughts about the limitations of evaluating and measuring programmes and outcomes:

We get it. When corporate responsibility isn’t your day job, or even if it is, the process of designing research tools, talking to the right beneficiaries and analysing your data might be pushed down the long To-Do list.

But, as many participants were likely reminded of at the Heart of the City’s workshop on “Data, Information and Insight: understanding your impact” last week, measuring the value of a programme develops insights that can substantively make a case for your corporate responsibility story: to the Finance Director, the CEO and clients.

This is important. Whether we’ve come to corporate responsibility deliberately or accidentally, it’s hard to ignore the benefits a well-designed programme has on staff, communities and (eco)systems.

But what are these benefits? And, how do we know this? What can be improved?

Understanding your impact supports your organisation in demonstrating how its values and mission are being met and lets your team and organisation improve activities and programmes for the future.

However, while most organisations are great at communicating what they want to do:

“We will reduce poverty in the local area our office operates in by December.”

“We will reduce our carbon footprint by 5% by composting tea bags over 12 months.”

From our experience, there are 3 questions many organisations could improve on asking:

  1. What will change (for the organisation or communities) by doing what you want to do?
  2. Why will that change occur?
  3. What data do we already have that can generate this insight?

But – how can organisations ask these questions differently – or better?

One way is a tool called Theory of Change. This might be the first time you’re hearing of it, or maybe your organisation is already using the tool. But, so we’re on the same page, a recap:

The tool and thinking process to develop it:

  • Builds an overview of what you’re trying to achieve and helps organisations think through the necessary steps to realise this long-term outcome;
  • Provides a visual summary explaining what activities you’re doing and surfaces what might be useful to measure, and;
  • Fills in the gaps between what a programme is meant to do and how it will do it.

Getting started

Last week, Tarran MacMillan and I were thrilled to work with fellow Heart of the City newcomers during our workshop, “What’s your value: how to know what, how and why to measure impact.”

During the session, we led participants through a Theory of Change exercise using our experience delivering workshops with the tool and evaluating our own corporate responsibility activity that we recently completed for the Migration Museum Project, a UK-based charity.

Example questions

  1. Action: what would your organisation like to achieve with its corporate responsibility programme?
  2. Activities: what does your organisation need to meet this goal?
  3. Change: what will happen as a result of your organisation’s corporate responsibility activities?

A Theory of Change can be produced at any point, though it’s most useful when developed collaboratively at the outset of a programme and referred to and adapted throughout as the programmes or goals change.

Programme and activity measurement can feel like a task to be done later, but the Theory of Change reminds us that getting started from the beginning helps you track useful data from the beginning that you can use to prove the great work you and your corporate responsibility team are doing.

Have you tried it?

If you’re interested to learn more, contact Dr Peter Welsh.