Charity Conference attendees

Choosing the right tools for the job

By Ellen Harries 6 February 2014

‘Don’t shoot a mosquito with a cannon ball’, said Confucius. Wise words indeed and one of the most prominent messages to emerge from last week’s Impact Leadership Conference. You need the right tools to do the job, which means putting in some important ground work before committing to a particular impact tool, system or scale.

Ground work

According to NPC’s Alex Van Vliet, you’ve got to define the strategic mission or goal of your organisation first. This may sound basic, but it’s impossible to measure success if you don’t know what it looks like.

Once you’ve defined your final goal, a second useful step is to produce a theory of change. I’ve supported numerous organisations through this process, and seen first hand how much value it adds to measurement and evaluation practices. It’s great for identifying your intermediate outcomes and how these add up to achieving your mission. And from a practical perspective, once your intermediate outcomes are set down, it becomes easier to see which outcomes you could and should be measuring.

It’s tempting to jump straight in at this point. But don’t be too hasty! Collecting data and developing impact measurement systems can be a complicated endeavour, and your approach should be proportionate—measuring everything in your theory of change is an arduous task, and it can also be unnecessary.

So identify your ‘priority outcomes’—those that are crucial to your organisation’s work—and decide what it is you really want to collect impact data on. You should also investigate whether an already existing evidence base supports the impact your organisation has. If so, then use it! There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and this means you can concentrate on collecting evidence of impact for other priority outcomes.

Now you’re in a much better position to understand the tools that will help you collect meaningful impact data.

Pick the right tool for the job

So, you’ve defined your mission, intermediate outcomes and the key things you want to measure, and it’s time to choose your tools. But—going back to Confucius—how do you know you’re not picking a cannon ball to shoot a mosquito? There are so many tools, approaches and scales out there, it can be tricky to know where to start.

This is where Inspiring Impact’s Resource Finder can help; lucky conference attendees got a sneak preview last week, but we’ll be launching it in its full glory this summer. The Resource Finder (working title!) is a free online platform assembling all the impact tools, guidance and resources on the market. It’s designed to act as a one-stop-shop where charities and funders can easily access information about the tools they need.

With a bit of leg work and armed with information about a range of impact resources, you’re likely to be in a far better position to get the job done well.