3 Tips for Getting More Out of the Impact Data that You Already Have

April 14, 2022

When it comes to tracking social impact, many of us do not where to start. We are overwhelmed by methodological choices and often begin by undergoing a refreshed theory of change process, creating very detailed data collection plans, or designing or refining indicators. However, we often overlook the data that is sitting right in front of us for sources of inspiration and insights into what outcomes we are contributing to and making. This blog shares a few tips on how you can get more out of the data you already have.  

  1. First, start with the data that you already have. 

Very often we are sitting on rich datasets that we have not analyzed and instead, choose to collect more data that we may or may not need. First search through your organization’s files and see what sources of data you have access to but that have not been analyzed systematically.  Often, the data sources that are the least analyzed are qualitative in nature. This could be in the form of grantee or corporate reports, interviews, focus groups, stories of change, evaluation or research reports, legal documents, etc. Within this text data, incredible social insights can reside if you apply systematic qualitative data analysis techniques, for example, detailing a change process, the context and trajectory of change, strategies that are working or not, and outcomes being achieved or thwarted. 

  1. Organize the data in a systematic way so it can be analyzed. 

Gather your Word docs, pdfs, excel files, etc., and restructure them in a common way or enter them in a software tool to be analyzed. There are many ways of doing this, if you are using a data analysis software like ImpactMapper, you can easily upload your Word docs or Excel and link them to grants, projects or investments that you have system, allowing for flexible analysis of data across data sources. If you are not using a data analysis software program, you could create an outcome database in Excel copying and pasting parts of text that are relevant to your analysis and combining it with other quantitative and qualitative data you may have. 

An example of this in practice was our recent work with Malala Fund supporting analysis of their COVID-19 Response Fund. Due to the unexpected and rapid spread of COVID-19 and its devastating consequences, the Malala Fund setup a special COVID-19 Fund to address the gaps in girls’ education needs around the world and to prevent reversals in access to education. Due to the urgent nature of implementation, impact metrics were not planned. However, this situation provided the opportunity to build impact metrics using a bottom-up approach instead of using pre-defined indicators. We supported Malala Fund in analyzing their 6-month grantee reports and stories. We entered the grant data from Excel/.csv files (from a grants management system) and uploaded the grantee reports in a .docx format into the ImpactMapper software. The grantee reports were analyzed using an inductive coding process that unearthed aggregated trends and outcomes, unexpected outcomes, and the reach of their work (including how many girls had access to informal and formal educational opportunities through the pandemic through their partners). 

Instead of defining measurement from the top down, searching for evidence to support their expected outcomes, Malala Fund was able to surface and identify relevant outcomes and indicators, through  their partners’, girls’ and community members' voices into the monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) system development  process. From this place of having documented all the outcomes that grantee partners achieved in relation to the COVID-19 grants, we then supported Malala Fund in refining their outcomes and indicators in alignment with their Theory of Change and updating their data collection processes. 

‘This was such a useful process, you taught us how to think about our data and code it in a meaningful way’  - Kim Miller Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning Manager at Malala Fund

  1. Surface and track stories of change that align with your impact narrative

Impact stories are a powerful way to communicate our work and progress so we can foster deeper learning, more strategic partnerships, and investments. In addition to quantitative indicators and financial data, you can enrich your analysis and reporting through meaningful qualitative analysis and using stories as evidence and exemplars of outcome trends that you have identified. This process becomes possible when you have created a database of stories or reports and analyzed them according to your impact framework or through an inductive approach as described above. This can also provide a powerful story database for your marketing and communication and fundraising teams to draw from, in addition to the research and evaluation team. 

In our next blog, we share more detailed tips for tagging reports, evaluation, and stories outcomes to your theory of change, strategic plan, and unique organizational values.

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