Seven Principles of Impact Reporting
The Community Impact Manager for United Way Australia, Jenny Riley, offers seven principles of impact reporting as she reflects on designing and writing United Way Australia’s first Community Impact Annual Report.
In putting together United Way Australia’s first Annual Community Impact Report, we had a blank slate and the opportunity to apply some of the best practices across the sector. Here are some of the principles we have used to guide us on the journey.
1. Impact reporting is about telling the story of change
The question driving our report is did we make a difference? We can write about what we did, how many events were run, toys given out, sessions held with parents but the critical question is did any of this make a long-lasting difference to people’s lives? Impact reporting is sometimes over complicated, one question I ask our grantees is ‘what changed?’ – it is important to stay focused on the outcomes (achieved results) i.e. what increased, decreased or reduced as a result of the initiative.
2. Explain how the change is measured
To further the transparency of the report, it is important a few pages are provided on how change is measured. In a scientific report the method chapter provides critical information to the reader on how the data was collected, this empowers the reader to make a judgement about the validity of the report and also allows for replication.
3. Impact reports must contain objective evidence
A number of our partners wrote vague statements in their annual reports to United Way i.e. ‘increased the confidence of young people’. My first questions is ‘how do you know that?’, often the response is that it has been observed and some anecdotal evidence is provided. No doubt many of the community development workers know the ‘end-users’ extremely well and this data is important but best practice is to have this triangulated with other forms of data. Otherwise it risks being subject to bias. I have asked all our grantees to have a standardized survey that involves a scale, ideally this would be taken prior to the initiative and after to show change over time. There are many tools available on the internet to measure soft skills such as changes in levels of confidence or wellbeing that can be adapted. Another piece of data I ask for, which is not always available at the time of reporting, is objective data such as still being enrolled in school 12 months later, or a new skill being applied.
4. Impact reports must be honest
There is reluctance in social sector to talk about what has not worked. Annual reports are often full of ‘good news’ stories. We need our reports to talk about what worked well and what we could have done better. This is essential so we can learn and share those learnings with others.
5. You measure what you value
The maxim ‘you measure what you value’ could be extended to ‘you report what you measure’. In mid 2012 we joined with the Centre for Social Impact to ensure we had the appropriate measurement framework in place to ‘capture’ the difference we were seeking to make – and how our theory of change stood up. We believe we make change through connecting, investing, mobilizing and strengthening – so our reporting process asked our community partners how we went and what we could have done better.
6. Say something new
We are including a ‘Improving our Practice’ double page spread that asks two questions, ‘what did we do differently in 2012’ and ‘what will we do differently in 2013’. This critical analysis and reflection has had input from our partners and many internal discussions. It demonstrates that we are not only learning every-year but we are applying those learnings and adapting our practice.
7. Finally, think before you print
Whilst we will produce a standard printed report with photos – we will also produce an online version and a black and white print friendly version. How often do we print these reports to find pages of photos wasting the toner? To read the report online Click here