ATMA Consulting | 30 March 2018
Atma Education NGOs are impressive at using resources creatively — whether it is using paper cups for a science demo, or transformer classrooms being refit for purpose at a moment’s notice.
In the social sector we recognise the need to use our resources creatively, but how effective are we being in how we allocate resources. Further, how does this impact our students?
Creating change in society through social intervention requires excellent resource allocation and using these resources in a manner that maximises impact. Deciding how to do this effectively can be a daunting task, especially when dealing with the information and resource constraints that most not-for-profit organisations face. In the recent past, successful social enterprises have leveraged the power of data to facilitate effective decision-making. In this article, I will show you a simple framework for managing impact.
In Part 1 — I define impact management and list some of its benefits, and in Part 2 — I provide a framework that organisations may utilise when designing a framework to manage organisational impact.
Part 1 — Impact management and its benefits
Impact management is the process of monitoring and evaluating on a continuous basis. The focus here is not on assessing overall impact of the organisation, but on informing decision-making. Unlike impact assessment which focuses on a rigorous one-time evaluation, impact management focuses on collecting and analysing a sufficient amount of data at a rapid pace. Some of the benefits of impact assessment include:
· Generates feedback for program design
· Provides information for decision-making
· Improves accountability of all stakeholders involved in the organisation’s activities
· Provides literature upon which future interventions may be designed
· Improves transparency within the organisation
Part 2 — Impact management framework
This framework is based on Atma’s experience over the years with partner organisations. At Atma we have found that organisations abiding by the principles listed below have a higher success rate than those that do not. The principles are:
· Creating context relevant solutions
· Adapting to changing environment
· Engaging stakeholders
· Relying on a stakeholder feedback
The framework listed below uses the above-mentioned principles to delineate the process organisations utilise:
1. Identify the problem: When designing a social intervention, an organisation must take into account the underlying problem. Often, not-for-profit organisations begin a social intervention based upon practices that have succeeded in other contexts. To effectively address a specific problem however, an organisation must take into account the context of the community. For example, if we wish to start a low-income private school in a community in Mumbai, context-specific factors for consideration towards program design include household income, current literacy rate in the community, opinions about formal schooling, religion etc. Identifying the true underlying problem may be done through methods such as a needs assessment which allows organisations to determine problems in a certain geography.
2. Map capacity: Once an organisation has identified a problem it wishes to tackle, it must begin mapping capacity. This involves assessing the fundamental requirements for the hypothesised social intervention to be successful. For example, for the aforementioned school, a community must have access to land to build the school, running water for students, teachers etc.
3. Map stakeholders: The organisation must also map all stakeholders and get a comprehensive understanding of their needs. For example, stakeholders involved in a school would include students, parents of the students, teachers, non-teaching staff, school governing body etc. It is crucial to understand how each stakeholder will contribute and the obstacles they may face in carrying out their role. For example, students from low income communities may not be able to complete homework due to the absence of independent work spaces at home, parents may not be able to send students to school as the students have to take care of younger siblings while parents go to work.
4. Build on existing capacity: a key feature is that progress can be made regardless of capacity. For example, if schools do not have land to build an entire school building, perhaps a makeshift school could be started in a small rented room until a suitable space to build a school is acquired.
5. Engage all relevant stakeholders: this involves identifying the obstacles that stakeholders may face in carrying out their duties and developing solutions to help them overcome the hurdles. For example, perhaps the school could start a day care service for younger siblings while students are engaged in school.
6. Experimentation and iteration: A not-for-profit organisation must constantly experiment to make the program better while collecting data. In the long-term, the data may then be utilised to develop future iterations of the program to maintain or even increase impact. For example, the school may experiment with a peer learning after school program to improve academic outcomes. If the program works well, the school may formalise the program. However, if the program does not work well the school can scrap the idea and experiment with another method to improve academic outcomes.
A crucial aspect of this process is the feedback loop. The model above shows a feedback loop from the current iterations of the social intervention to the context within which the organisation’s program operates. For example, if the school is able to bring academic outcomes up to national standards, the context of the community would have transformed in many ways. Some of which include better employment opportunities for students etc. The school at this point may reassess the context and determine that while students are earning better, housing prices have begun to rise in the community due to people from other communities migrating to attend this school. As a result, the overall standard of living is not improving since the increase in earnings is being nullified by the growing cost of real estate. At this point the school would be faced with a new problem, namely determining how to maintain the new academic standards while preventing a rise in house prices within the community. This feedback loop is critical in engendering long-term success.
As we have seen in this article, not being able to measure the degree of impact does not entail that a social intervention is not having a positive impact. However, generating and incorporating feedback regarding organisational and intervention-related activities is of utmost importance. It not only allows an organisation to tailor the program based on context-specific needs but also ensures that the organisation can keep up with the ever-changing needs of communities.