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The Impact Navigator: Our Impact

How do we create impact? How do we add value to the lives of people? (Sphere 3)


When Greta Thunberg decided to skip school and announced a skolstrejk (school strike) for climate justice, she applied a distinct way to create impact: non-violent civil disobedience. It has been used many times before, often successfully, for instance in the Montgomery bus boycott of the Civil Rights Movement in America or in Gandhi’s campaigns of non-violent resistance against the British in India. Greta could have used other strategies, such as blogging about a climate-friendly lifestyle. But she didn’t.


When working for a purpose, it is critical to realize that we have an arsenal of options to create the change we want. That Greta went on a school strike was a brilliant choice of hers. It was not inevitable.


The impact is the currency of the for-purpose world. Positive change and adding value to the lives of people is a success. But how do we do it best? This is the most important conversation within a for-purpose organisation in their tussle for change. If organisations create a large impact or change, for instance, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh that lifted millions out of poverty or Wikipedia that made knowledge virtually accessible to everyone, they are usually perceived as successful. In some cases, resisting change may also be seen as an impact. The National Rifle Association in the United States has been successful in lobbying against stricter gun laws. 


Most organisations follow two or three impact models or ways to create impact, such as by creating a specific service, or by advocating in a certain way. Those two or three impact models would constitute part of the identity of an organisation. They describe how the organisation is doing or trying to do things. The equivalent in the for-profit world would be the business model, which describes how a business adds value to the customer, which in turn can be monetized.





Impact model (Element 3.1)


In the last few years, Hans Rusinek and I have collected hundreds of ways in which organisations create impact and clustered them into 50 impact models, which are broad ways to create impact. You can download the cards here. Apart from giving an overview of the amazing diversity of the for-purpose world, we created the cards to give social pioneers and practitioners a tool to explore new options around how to create impact and innovate new organisational models or strategies. On the flip side of each card, you will find an exceptional organisation or individual that has mastered or coined a specific impact model.


The impact models are options to choose from. Let me give you an example: Say, you work for an organisation that has a purpose to improve the inclusion of differently-abled people in society. This can be done in manifold ways. Some of the many possible options to create impact regarding inclusion could be: 


Option 1: We could develop new inclusion policies for companies, then test them in a few companies to show that they are powerful. This example is described in card 5 of the impact deck above.





Option 2: We could create self-help groups for the differently abled, where they can discuss their inclusion issues and come up with their coping mechanisms. 



Option 3: We could create an award system for companies or schools that are exemplary in implementing inclusion mechanisms or expose those which are least inclusive. 



Many organisations define the main ways they use to create impact in a theory of change, which also looks at the plausibility of the pathways of change. In our example, one of the three options might be seen as the best option by the management of the organisation, for instance, because pilot actions have shown promising changes. They might hence focus on that specific option.


Usually, in countries with more civil liberties, the number of options would be higher. Likewise, in countries with autocratic leadership, the options are fewer and come with more risks. Intended change is never neutral in such circumstances, even for the noblest of purposes. Everything can be seen as a political statement that may undermine the regime.


We usually recommend leaders pay attention to defining clear impact models and a theory of change together with their teams, so they can better communicate what they are doing, measure change, and assess if they are on the right path.   


Actual initiatives, and the impact you create (Element 3.2)


While the impact models describe the theory, this element looks at the things you are doing to bring about change and meet your purpose. This is where the action happens, and for many of you, this may be the most important part of the organisational model.  It includes:


  • the projects and initiatives you run, and

  • the services and products you are developing and delivering, and

  • the actual impact you make.

This element is so central that it relies on all the other elements and spheres to be in place: the initiatives or services rely on resources, on decisions to be made, on people that carry certain values, and on an organisational strategy that matches the initiatives. If some of those elements are not given, your initiative may not flourish, or it may not be adequately recognized.


Some of the key aspects, for-purpose organisations, are looking for when it comes to analysing and designing their initiatives, services and products include the following:


  1. Coherence/Strategic fit: initiatives, products or services should match the purpose and the strategy, but also the organisational culture, capacities and resources.

  2. Effectiveness: there should be evidence of the impact that is delivered or at least an indication that behaviours or practices change, and hence contribute to intended changes in the long run. In this regard also cost-effectiveness can be an important measure.    

  3. Quality and added value: initiatives should be implemented in good quality and the target group should see a clear added value in the initiatives or services. 

  4. Impact: The actual impacts you make in the lives of people, and how to measure it.

  5. Upward- and downward accountability: accountability has become an increasingly important topic for the for-purpose world. The emphasis used to be on upward – accountability towards the donor. In recent years, downward accountability, towards the target group has become a hot topic. And rightly so. How can for-purpose organisations integrate their target groups more meaningfully?

  6. Progression and scale: most of the inspiring and successful leaders in the for-purpose world have developed their initiatives and impact models progressively and reached impact at a significant scale. How can we drive progression and scale our initiatives, services, or products?

 

Exercise questions on impact: 


  • How is your organisation creating impact and change? What are the dominant models?

  • Screen the 50+ red impact cards for ideas that could help your organisation to create impact in a new way. 

  • Are the initiatives, products and services coherent with the impact models?

  • Do other elements of the organisation adequately support the initiatives, products and services?

  • How happy are you with the changes and the impact you create in the lives of people?

  • Have your initiatives, services and products evolved? What role does scale play?



References Impact:


Schwarz, Joachim and Hans Rusinek, 2023: Impact Cards.

Spring Impact: The Scaling Impact Toolkit.  

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