WHAT IS IMPACT?
It's a word used frequently by organisations, academics, practitioners and others looking to prove their worth, but what does it actually mean?
There is no single definition, but at its most simple, it means the significant difference your activity makes.
Examples might be long term difference to individuals, a big difference to the locality, an important change in regional or national policy that will have long lasting implications, the creation of new jobs, a reduction in poor mental health, a stronger visibility for hidden voices and communities, a stronger economy, or a culture change in another group or organisation.
This might be expressed as
- social impact or social value
- economic impact or return on investment
- academic or research impact (which has clearer definitions and varies slightly from impact in other sectors - see RCUK guidance)
Impact is not:
- Small every day changes or differences. These are outcomes. Just as important, but different in scale
- Monetary, or at least not always
- Purely statistical. Impact can be measured, but numbers may not be impact, and statistics alone make no sense without the story of how they came about. Outputs are the numbers of things that happened as a result of your work (such as number of workshops, people involved, things created) but they don't show how things have changed.
- Purely descriptive. Anecdotes, stories, observations and other descriptions alone need some form of measurement to prove that change has happened
- Always positive. It's important to note that negative impact can happen too and this needs including in impact assessment
- Easy to demonstrate. Or at least not without some knowledge of how to do so reliably
- Easy to claim. Often impact happens as a combination of many other experiences and activities as well as yours. It's important to understand how much you can take credit for, or not.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
As well as being able to demonstrate the difference you've made as a result of the resource you have, understanding, evaluating and managing your impact will help you:
Understanding impact also helps with morale and job satisfaction as it helps everyone involved to really see tangible results to their work, which is especially important to those who may spend more days at their desk and not seeing the real difference 'on the ground'.
By having a thorough understanding of what your impact is, what it takes to create it and how it relates to your organisational purpose, you are in a stronger position for making strategic and operational decisions. You will have a much stronger knowledge of what can be improved in your processes, vision and models; what could happen when things are changed; and what it would take to create deeper or broader impact.
As social investment grows as a means of revenue, being able to evaluate and manage your impact will become ever more vital, in order to return and / or grow the investments made.
It also enables you to show how you support the Social Value Act, which not only demonstrates an ethical commitment, but can bring a competitive edge when tendering for commissioned services that receive public funding.
In short, understanding, evaluating and managing impact strengthens your organisation.