World Watches in Shock and Awe
Mark your calendars: June 16 (tomorrow) is World Metrics Day! Our declaration of an official World Metrics Day (or WMD, as we’ve been calling it) is a little (well, actually, a lot) tongue in cheek, but Acumen Fund’s commitment to metrics is absolutely serious. Figuring out how to measure social impact has long been a challenge for philanthropists, social investors, practitioners and the development sector. Our focus has been on finding ways to collect, understand and use data to (1) best support the enterprises in which we invest, (2) improve how Acumen Fund works and (3) create common measures for the sector – in that order of importance. (We’ve blogged here before about metrics, on what we like to call cost effective cost effectiveness and our best available charitable option methodology.)
If you follow our work, you know that we’ve been developing a platform called Pulse, discussed in BusinessWeek and The New York Times when it was announced last fall at the Clinton Global Initiative. Pulse helps social investors track, measure, and evaluate operational data to understand whether different approaches to solving the problems of global poverty are working. Although originally designed as a tool to help us manage our own portfolio, we’ve been working with Salesforce.com to make it available for adoption by peer organizations and to share data across the sector. We have also been collaborating with the Rockefeller Foundation, B-Lab, Deloitte and PwC to develop standard definitions of social and environmental performance that can enable comparability across portfolios (for more on this, see www.iris-standards.org). About forty organizations are currently testing Pulse, which we expect to be widely available to nonprofits later this year.
We chose June 16 as World Metrics Day for three reasons. First, last year on June 16th we convened a number of our partners and leading thinkers on the topic at the Rockefeller Foundation to map out our current strategy, and we are simply taking stock of where we have come in the year. Second, it’s Bloomsday, a day notable for its devotees’ commitment (obsession?) to a singular topic, perhaps the least linear novel ever written (Joyce’s Ulysses). Finally, it happens to be my father’s birthday (happy birthday, Dad!). My father is a pathologist and the naming of Pulse was inspired by the autopsy metaphor. Most measurement and evaluation in the social sector is like an autopsy: intrusive, inconclusive and too late to help. We wanted to build a metrics practice that could take the “pulse” of our investments, with simple but meaningful measures that can help us make course corrections real time.
So we will be spending the day thinking about and talking about and, indeed, celebrating metrics. Celebrate with us — June 16 is the first annual World Metrics Day. Remember, count something. and make it count!
Updated 6/18/2009 – thanks to Sara Olsen of SVT Consulting for her great blog post over at Social Edge on World Metrics Day. Count what counts, Sara!