One of the biggest challenges facing people I talk with every day is how to begin learning about your social impact when you have been primarily focusing on "outputs" (the number of people who benefit, number of products sold, number of products made, etc.).
As I wrote in another article, social impact refers to the changes that occur in the lives of individuals and a community or group as a result of your business. Knowing the outputs is important, but is only a part of what you need to know.
One of the techniques I like to share with people that serves the purposes of both learning about your impact and identifying stories that you can share through your marketing and fundraising efforts is called the Most Significant Change technique.
While this is an evaluation technique, it is an excellent way for your communications team to gather impactful stories about what is happening in the lives of the people who benefit from your work.
This monitoring and evaluation technique was designed specifically to help you:
- hear directly from the people most affected by the problems your work is seeking to address,
- focus on the changes (not outputs) that occur as a result of your work, and
- involve the people most affected by the problem in deciding what changes are most important in their context.
I also like this technique because it allows you to open yourselves to changes that people experience that you may not even think of. This can be a foundation that provides the information you can later use to create a theory of change or logic model if you don't have these yet.
The how-to tool that was developed, and I encourage you to use, lists 10 steps to this process. Remember that it is a flexible process, and you may not need to complete all of these steps.
Here's a brief overview of the general phases of this process:
Phase 1: Plan.
Decide how you'll collect the stories, when you'll collect them, and the kinds of questions you'd like to ask.
Phase 2: Collect stories.
Collect the stories on a set schedule (monthly or quarterly). Where you gather them is very flexible. You can interview people, take notes in meetings where people might discuss their experiences, or have people write their own stories down for you.
Phase 3: Review and select most significant stories.
The next phase is to review the stories and decide on the story that is most significant stories from that round of stories. The review group could be any group of stakeholders, but I'd encourage you to either include only people affected by the problem, or both those affected as well as staff and advisory board members (if possible).
As part of this phase, your team could discuss how your business might improve the work you're doing based on these stories. You could also ask the group that chose the stories what ideas they have for improvement as well.
Phase 4: Feedback to the people who shared the stories.
Share what stories the group decided were most significant and why, and share the changes you will make (and then make them) as a result of their stories. This show the people who shared their stories that you actually read the stories and have plans to use them to benefit the people who shared them. This will also help you develop greater trust, and will likely result in better and better stories as you continue this method.
Phase 5: Analysis and reporting.
This tool has really practical and accessible instructions on how to do this. While it may take some experimenting, you don't need a data analyst to take these stories and then turn them into information that you can use to increase your access to capital, funding, or to share in reports to existing funders.
Phase 6: Share the stories.
After a few rounds of story collection, your team will have a wealth of powerful stories that share the impact of your work on the individuals involved, and some representation of how it may have affected an entire population or group of people.
Before your communications team starts sharing these stories publicly, it is imperative that you ask the storyteller first. They may not want you to share their story. It is unethical to collect data for research or evaluation purposes and then share individual-level data without the express consent of the individual who shared it. If you can't gain their consent, you can't share their story.
If you have questions as you begin planning to implement the Most Significant Change technique, you can set up a free 45-minute consultation with me to talk about your specific situation and what you can to do begin using this powerful tool.