A parallel world without your organisation in it: that’s what you really need to understand the difference you make. Being able to track down the child, the school, the town or the country that your work tries to help, and find out what happened to them without you. What better way is there to assess your impact?
But as this option clearly isn’t available, what else can you do? You have few resources, a control group is out of reach, and you don’t even know if you’ll have the funds to stay open another year. Sometimes engaging with impact measurement can feel insurmountable. But it might be simpler than you think.
There may be some very basic steps you can take to improve the evidence you have of the impact of your work.
Ask yourself: do you have a theory of change? Simply articulating the outcomes you are aiming to achieve, and having a clear rationale for the activities you undertake, can help outsiders understand the value of your work.
And what do you do with the anecdotal feedback you get from your beneficiaries? Simply recording anecdotes and the outcomes they relate to is better than not doing anything at all.
If you already collect the opinions of service users on how their lives have improved, you might still be wondering what purpose they serve if you only have their word for it. But if these opinions have been collected in a representative and objective way, then they are still valid. Of course, you would want to know if users of your service think their lives haven’t changed, or their situation is worse.
You may be lucky and have some data on outcomes before and after using a service. How helpful is this if you can’t understand if and how your service contributed to making a difference? You could consider combining this data with your beneficiaries’ views, and additional data on whatever else might have been going on in their lives.
There’s lots you can do in the absence of a control group—or parallel world.