Tracking social impact values through data collection and data management systems

May 4, 2021

As institutions committed to social and environmental justice, we share values like equality, participation, respect, empathy, sustainability, and transparency. Yet, these values are rarely embedded within our data collection and data management systems.  How do we take the values and commitments that we have as organizations and individuals and track them effectively? How can we ensure that the social justice, gender equality, and sustainability values that we promote are embedded in our grantmaking and investing processes and the work that we support?  

Surfacing and tracking organizational values is crucial to align an organization's vision and mission with its everyday implementation. To support this process, data collection and management systems can leverage metrics to make sense and learn from the implementation of our organizational values, support strategic reflection and decision making.

There are three key areas we can look to creating indicators that align with our values, and see if we are actually walking the talk:

  • Grantmaking and investing strategies 
  • Organizational culture
  • Results analysis.

Read on for practical tips to align your data collection and management systems with values embedded in these three areas. If you are interested in more tips for collecting and leveraging stories in your evaluation, sign up to our newsletter.

  1.  Grantmaking and investing strategy

A  lot of the values that organizations pursue and want to be supporting as grantmakers and investors are embedded within their strategy documents, e.g., strategic plan, mission/vision, or Theory of change. Looking at the objectives and goals of an organization is the starting point to understand what has been committed to. The next step is to transform some of these values into indicators. 

Oxfam undertook this approach years ago. From very early on, the organization committed to putting women at the heart of everything that they do as an institution, especially in terms of their gender justice work.  To align their data systems and track the values embedded in this strategy, our founder, Alexandra Pittman PhD, supported them to develop metrics and analysis processes with a gender lens that were fully integrated into their program designs. 

Recently, the Fund for Global Human Rights tracked the impact of COVID-19 on their grantees through ImpactMapper surveys, standing by their values of participatory and rapid response commitments to grantmaking, when they. The findings from the pulse-taking survey resulted in a $100,000 USD special COVID-19 Response Fund to support organizations navigating the pandemic during a critical and challenging time. Read more here

Creating metrics that aligned with this organisational strategy helped identify the types of organisations that their programmes and projects were supporting and how their grantmaking approach was supportive of their values or not. 

  1. Organizational culture

Flexibility, transparency, diversity, and participation are some of the values that shape culture in an organization.  Yet, one common pitfall is that these values are not embedded in how we collect data, analyze or disseminate it.

Data collection and management systems are not ethically ‘neutral’ - they reflect the values that we ‘bake in’ to them with our design choices, as well as the values which guide our distribution and use of them. Starting from this perspective, there are different methodologies that can be leveraged to align our organizational values with data collection and data management systems.  

Urgent Action Fund Africa focuses on downward accountability with grantees, and continuous data collection on their performance with grantees and internally with staff as part of the way they operationalize their feminst and participatory values. They use this data to improve their grantmaking, internal organizational operations, and even presentations they give. Check out our recent blog on how they achieve this.

When thinking about how to institutionalize participation and voice, much inspiration can be found in participatory, appreciative inquiry, storytelling and outcome harvesting methodologies. Our blogpost on using stories for impact measurement touches on the power of stories to respect and lift up the voices of people involved in programming, your team, or in the broader sector as part of an evaluative process. Moving on to analysis, these stories can be coded in alignment with your own theory of change and impact metric framework/KPIs to quantify trends. Participatory workshops can be used to make data collection more transparent, diverse and participatory. Another strategy is to build indicators from people's voices up, using a deductive process for indicator development. This can create a participatory, dynamic, respectful, bottom-up process that reflects organizational values, and forms the foundation of the ImpactMapper software program.

  1. Result Analysis

We can embed values in our results analysis by creating operational definitions for your indicators that bring your values to life.This process can lead to indicators and scales that truly reflect what matters for your organization. 

Gender mainstreaming or women’s empowerment work can often fall prey to superficial measures of progress that end up primarily being about the number of women participating in activities, not actual shifts in power, resources, leadership, institutions or opportunities. Truly caring about gender equality requires looking beyond numbers disaggregated by gender to understand how far we are in a process of actually contributing to gender responsive or transformative results that are shifting and transforming social normative structures, which support, maintain or challenge inequalities. 

The Gender Results Effectiveness Scale (GRES) is an example of a seemingly simple scale that embeds values through operational definitions to help move an organization forward towards their strategy and commitments: the GRES ranges from gender negative, gender blind, gender targeted, gender responsive to gender transformative. ImpactMapper's Founder developed the scale in partnership with UNDP to analyze results with a gender lens to identify and nurture programmes with gender responsive and transformative results. The scale allowed the organization to identify where these normative shifts were being produced and to start thinking about how to foster these changes early on, from the development stage and throughout the implementation stage.

If you want to hear about other organizations experiences in collecting and leveraging data and stories for social impact tracking, sign up to our newsletter.  If you want to hear how we can help your organization strengthen your M&E systems get in touch!

Thank you! You should receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.