Measuring and Improving Social Impacts: A book review by Bob Morris

Measuring:ImprovingMeasuring and Improving Social Impacts: A Guide for Nonprofits, Companies, and Impact Investors
Marc J. Epstein and Kristi Yuthas
Berrett-Koehlker Publishers, Inc. (2014)

How any organization (whatever its size and nature may be) can substantially increase and improve its positive social impact

Many of the best business books were written to share the results of research conducted to answer an especially important question. That is certainly true of this one. Marc Epstein and Kristi Yuthas interviewed more than one hundred leaders, soliciting their responses to not one but several separate but interrelated questions. In essence, they asked: “How to measure and then improve social impacts?”

They invoke the “journey” metaphor because some of those who read this book have already embarked on efforts to make a positive difference by supporting the causes they care most about; others are still in the planning process; and still others are struggling to decide whether or not to become significantly involved in social initiatives.

A set of five interview questions provides the framework of the book Epstein and Yuthas wrote in order to share what they learned:

1. What will you invest?
2. What problem will you address?
3. What steps will you take?
4. How will you measure success?
5. How can you increase impact?

These five questions are structural Parts within which the material is organized and presented. They also comprise what Epstein and Yuthas identify as “The Social Impact Creation Cycle.” The aforementioned questions are answered in sequence. Keep in mind that the Cycle is an on-going process, literally a work in progress, and will probably require continuous modification. Monitoring the cycle will indicate when and why to commit less of some resources, for example, and more of others. It is important to keep in mind that external as well as internal developments may require some of those modifications.

Think of Epstein and Yuthas in terms of various roles they play: First, they are the co-authors of this book, best viewed as an operations manual. Also, they will be consultants as answers to the first three questions are determined or (if the journey is underway) for evaluating — and perhaps revising — the answers that have guided and informed efforts until now. Moreover, because no two organizational “journeys” are ever the same nor is an organization the same as when it first embarked, Epstein and Yuthas will be guides and advisors during five key processes: formulation of plan, implementation of it, measurement of progress to date, evaluation, and amplification. Measurement reveals (at best) partial success, progress, evaluation reveals what works, what doesn’t, and why so that the given organization can intensify effort and increase investment in one area (or areas) and reduce or eliminate elsewhere.

I congratulate Marc Epstein and Kristi Yuthas on producing a book that may well prove to be for some readers, especially for leaders in nonprofits, the most valuable they will read this year and perhaps in years to come.

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