Rest Well DT
In most enterprises, we measure our performances. We decide successes and losses based on a bottom line. Productivity and outcomes are based on formulas, numerical measurements. We surround ourselves with methods of testing. Ratios, P/L, ROI, mean, median, average, variables, statistics, steps, calories, miles logged, even GPAs all determine whether we live up to our goals. So, in our business of doing work that matters, there are clear and obvious challenges. How do we determine the return on investment in purpose, social impact, and driven programs? How do we quantify the work we provide?
In the effort to effect social impact, historically companies provide marketing campaigns. They consider it the cost of doing business, and it is simply something one must do. To me, the fundamental challenge is how to distinguish return on investment from just simple expectation setting or having no expectations at all. Companies often waste money and resources without making much of a difference. When an organization or an individual takes on a purpose-driven program or social impact program, they are hoping to find a leveraged solution. They want to come up with something that will be a force multiplier. For the good in the world. However, if one does not have an understanding of what the return can be, even if not a financial return, we default to the direct service model: How many meals were prepared for the hungry? How many blankets or pairs of socks have we collected and distributed? It is difficult to know if those practices are actually making a permanent difference. Additionally, there are situations when potentially negative consequences are ignored. For instance, if you are handing out 10,000 aluminum, solar-heated blankets to people experiencing homelessness, but those blankets all end up, in the local Creek and create an environmental hazard, then we are creating a problem, not a solution.
Our acquisition of Vantage Evaluation should help us ensure continuous performance improvements. Consistent evaluation is a tool to learn from each investment, so we may pivot our approach to continually improve and be more impactful. We desire agile strategic planning based on continuous improvement, experimentation iteration, and product program development. Just as companies try to find a product-market fit or take new products to market by doing iterative design and running experiments, they modify their products and continuously redesign to find that winning (market) position. However, when it comes to social impact, you also need a control group. Otherwise, one does not know what actually, ultimately worked and what did not. The mindset and focus to measure a specific iteration, in the spirit of learning and getting better, is not impossible. It is just a significant, mindset shift. We need to be cognizant that shareholders and business leaders need to align with their respective social causes, and within each cause, there is a defined ecosystem. Funders, Developers, Researchers, Enablers, and Providers are each part of the ecosystem that provides direct service and participates in the input and output of systemic change. And of course, Evaluators, those who ultimately measure the ecosystem. What is happening? What is working? Or not.
The long-term perspective, in addition to the discussion of ROI, is positive on all fronts, both the public and private sectors. It will not happen overnight. If you invest in a social impact cost through continuous improvement, iteration continued learning, a measurement system and your own understanding of when you make an investment; the result will be an aligned approach to impact. I will continue to address the concern and necessity for evaluating ROI. This reflection is the first in an ongoing series that Prosono will publish.
To close, I would be remiss not to mention the individual motivation that spurs all socially active performance. And in that light, it is perhaps poetic that as I write this, the sports world mourns the stellar person that was Demaryius Thomas aka number 88. 724 Rec, 9,763 yards, 63 TD, and one smile that could light up a stadium. The remarks in the aftermath of his passing were less about his accomplishments on the field, and mostly about how he gave, and did, and was present off the field. Ultimately, this is how we are remembered. He did work that mattered, and so do we.