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Changing the debate on impact measurement and management

This is a guest blog post from Dr Jess Daggers, academic and practitioner specialising in impact measurement and the growth of the impact investing industry.

I have been working in impact measurement for almost a decade now, and there are aspects of this field that I find endlessly fascinating: why, despite the challenges of implementing measurement systems, is it so widely accepted that measurement is both necessary and worthwhile? Why is it so difficult to find common ground on what measurement systems should look like? How is it that the basic principles of impact measurement seem simple and straightforward, but the reality of building a measurement framework so often involves a lack of consistency, poor quality data, and analysis that leads to inconclusive or meaningless results?

As well as working in the space, I have also been studying the field of impact measurement for almost a decade, with a particular interest in its relation to the growth of impact investing. My intention has never been to come up with new measurement frameworks, or offer solutions to the problems faced by practitioners. Instead, I have been asking: what are we taking for granted as we attempt to improve measurement practice? What assumptions are we making, without even realising we are making them? And how are the terms of the debate set by ideas and principles we have inherited from elsewhere? By asking these kinds of questions, we can gain greater perspective, and make more informed choices about what to aim for, and why. 

This blog marks the publication of a paper that draws attention to certain aspects of the way we are talking and thinking about impact measurement (or impact measurement and management (IMM) as it is now often referred to). It is especially relevant to practitioners working in an investment setting, though it should be of interest to anybody involved in IMM. My thanks go to SVUK for supporting and encouraging my work and agreeing to share it with the membership.

In this paper, I suggest we return to the basic features of the attempt to generate knowledge about impact. By going back to basics, we can reset our assumptions and expectations about what is possible, and what we should be aiming for. We then have firmer grounds for understanding where differences lie – differences that it would be helpful to explore, rather than cover up – and for challenging aspects of the debate that are inaccurate or misguided. We might then have a chance of moving onto substantially new ground.

Read and download the full document here.

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