Social impact stars show how groups can better measure their work
Posted on 21 Feb 2023
By Matthew Schulz, journalist, SmartyGrants
A housing organisation, an outfit helping more women into business, a regional project to help families, and a government agency helping Indigenous groups reduce family violence are Australia’s best social impact measurement practitioners.
The 2022 Social Impact Measurement Network Australia (SIMNA) Awards recognised winners in the following categories:
- Excellence: Launch Housing for its integrated impact measurement framework built to help end homelessness
- Innovation: Global Sisters for their “back her brilliance” gender lens impact roadmap
- Outstanding collaboration: Hands Up Mallee and Clear Horizon, for their joint measurement, evaluation and learning framework
- Leading funder: Family Safety Victoria and Urbis capacity building project addressing family violence across 30 Indigenous groups
Excellence: Housing group builds measurement foundation for others to follow
Launch Housing was recognised in the overall excellence category for its “integrated impact measurement framework” used to measure progress in its mission to end homelessness.
Developed over two years, the framework was implemented as part of a four-year strategy.
Launch Housing’s chief impact officer, Laura Mahoney, said its measurement framework was “based on a belief that understanding our impact and improving client outcomes is at the centre of everything we do”.
Developed over two years, the framework was implemented as part of a four-year strategy.
Ms Mahoney said measuring impact was “part of all our decision-making, from developing our strategic plan and business plans through to our service development and service reviews and our ongoing program of evaluations”.
She said the framework had enabled the organisation to focus more on successes, improvements, and building the “evidence base” across the sector.
In practice, it also meant conversations with teams about “the outcomes we want to achieve the impact we’d like with the resources we have available”. The measurement method meant Launch Housing had improved its ability to design services, as well as to scale up activities that were working well.
Innovation: Global Sisters forge a new way of backing women’s business
An organisation dedicated to helping women into business has been lauded for its innovative impact measurement model that combines data and compelling stories and uses a pro-women lens to “back her brilliance”.
Global Sisters has fine-tuned its impact measurement methods over six years, most recently conducting an in-depth impact evaluation tracking how women were progressing along an impact “roadmap”. The roadmap has several stages, from starting a business to achieving long-term financial security.
Combining great stories and hard data, the group was able to track the path of successful women in business and to demonstrate the powerful ripple effects of their work through the rest of society.
Heather Thompson, the chief operating officer for Global Sisters, told judges that the organisation had already worked with more that 5500 women across the country, using an impact framework co-designed by the women who benefit.
In its latest iteration, the organisation’s method of measurement accounts for Global Sisters’ dual mission to help women “beat the odds” and to push for social changes that will “change the odds for women”.
“The big innovation for us this year has been around bringing those two together in our theory of change and making sure that how we communicate those impact findings is accessible,” Ms Thompson said.
She said it was important that women have the autonomy to “tell their own stories”, such as through Fabiola Campbell’s compelling “journey map”, which includes interactive videos at key points of her story.
The organisation’s measurement approach helped hold it to account for the impact it had promised, Ms Thompson said, while also challenging the assumption that only traditional “academic approaches” could be considered robust measures.
Collaboration: Mildura families are better off through joint effort
Since 2015, Hands Up Mallee has brought together leaders, organisations and community groups to tackle complex social issues and improve the health and well-being of young people and their families.
Hands Up Mallee worked with social impact consultants Clear Horizon to create a measurement evaluation and learning (MEL) framework for an area which sits along the picturesque Murray River and is also one of the most disadvantaged regions in Victoria.
Clear Horizon’s Dr Ellise Barkley said that work involved coaching and co-design to map a proposed “journey of change” from small-scale efforts to population-level effects. The project involved more than 50 stakeholders and created a “strong sense of understanding and ownership”.
Fiona Merlin from the Hands Up Mallee collective impact initiative said the collaborators were forced to switch from face-to-face workshops to shorter online sessions as a result of the pandemic, but the results had been even better than expected, and the MEL project was now able to “capture learnings and impacts in real time”.
Leading funder: Investment in safer families pays off
Family Safety Victoria (FSV) and its partner Urbis were awarded for their work in funding better social impact measurement.
As part of FSV’s remit to fund violence prevention measures through Indigenous organisations, it invested – through Urbis – in the effort to boost social impact measurement and evaluation across 30 grassroots Aboriginal community organisations in 11 regions.
Urbis created an Aboriginal-led team including Yorta Yorta consultant Karen Milward and Aboriginal social change agency Cox Inall Ridgeway.
The team developed a set of user-friendly tools and templates to help organisations plan and conduct evaluations, as well as providing support and guidance to those organisations to create reports that showcased successes and lessons learned from the variety of family violence prevention activities.
The outcomes report found a great improvement in a range of areas across culture, community awareness and connection, awareness of family violence, the creation of safe spaces and more healthy and respectful relationships.
Judges said the focus on grantees was “exceptional” in that the work supported the organisations receiving grant funds to be able to better measure their impact.
SmartyGrants commits to backing better social measurement
SmartyGrants sponsored the leading funder category for the fourth time, in a continuing commitment to boosting social measurement work, and to help in SIMNA’s mission to encourage better social measurement.
SmartyGrants chief technology officer Sarah Barker is also SIMNA’s co-chair and she helped host the event, while chief impact officer Jen Riley joined an expert discussion panel exploring big issues in the field. SmartyGrants staff joined a live “watch party” of the virtual event from at Our Community House in Melbourne.
Ms Barker said there had been more entries in the category than in any other year, matching the rapid growth of the social impact measurement field, forcing judges to find winners among “incredibly competitive” nominations.
Her favourite part of the event was the quick video pitches by the country’s best practitioners explaining how they had produced their award-winning work.
“Listening to you and your teams describe the ways in which you are measuring social change and social value was truly inspiring,” Ms Barker said.
Executive director Kathy Richardson said SmartyGrants’ support of the awards reflected a desire to encourage greater social measurement capabilities across the social and grantmaking sectors.
She said the sector’s appetite for understanding impact was reflected in SmartyGrants users’ widespread adoption of the new Outcomes Engine, which was a “massive shift” following more than eight years of research and development.
The Outcomes Engine is used by around 10% of SmartyGrants users, with that number growing rapidly.
An expert panel addressed the future of social impact measurement in front of an audience of specialists in the field.
SIMNA board member and panel host Benjamin Jardine was unapologetic about SIMNA’s strategy of “inviting brilliant people” to provoke thinking about whether social impact measurement had “delivered on its promise”.
Alongside SmartyGrants’ Jen Riley were Awerangi Tamihere of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, and Edmund McCombs, social impact head of Lendlease.
Panelists agreed practitioners must work harder to share methods, seek measurement improvements at a “systems level” and consider carefully how groups would use the social impact measures being adopted.
Mr Jardine warned that practitioners must continue to adapt or face the threat of “robots replacing us”, which in turn risked poor quality and “reductionist” measurements, and a failure to achieve the promise that prompted the discussion in the first place.
You can catch the whole 45-minute panel discussion on YouTube.
More about the 2022 winners and runners-up