What does "impact" really mean when we're talking about impact measurement?

Impact is one of those words that is used a lot, and to mean many different things. When we’re talking about measurement and evaluation, the word takes on a specific meaning. The Impact Management Project, a project aiming to build a global consensus on how to measure and manage impact has defined it as: “a change in positive or negative outcome for people or the planet.” The IMP, with over 2000 practitioners, has determined that to understand any impact, “we need to understand five dimensions of performance: What, Who, How Much, Contribution and Risk.”

I like how Sara Olsen, in a primer for the Future of Good, How to Develop an Impact Measurement System that Actually Works for your Organization, summarizes how they define impact:

  1. Who is affected?
  2. What is changing for them (good or bad)?
  3. How much is that variable changing?
  4. What contribution is your organization or enterprise making to the change?
  5. What is the risk that this impact isn’t quite what we think it is?

Seems simple enough, right? Not entirely. There’s a lot to unpack here, but I think IMP does a great job of going over some tricky bits, such as understanding your contribution, and lays out some options for how you might proceed. It’s definitely worth checking out!