SIM TIG Week: Evaluating Social Impact with a Participatory Mixed Method by Carter Garber

My name is Carter Garber, Director of the Institute for Development, Evaluation, Assistance and Solutions (IDEAS). For 3.5 decades, I have been an evaluator and involved in a variety of other roles with what is now called “social impact investments” and their measurement.

I am fortunate to have a 360 degree perspective as a founder of four for-profit & non-profit financial institutions, as an evaluation consultant to major investors, as an investor, and as a trainer to investees & evaluators to do Social Impact Measurement (SIM).

Leason Learned: Evaluators, investors, investees and the SIM TIG members attempt to evaluate investments that seek financial, social and environmental returns.

The social impact investing field is challenged to select tools that are acceptable to both investors and investees. There is a plethora of resources, tools and hundreds of indicators, however many are either quantitative or qualitative. We evaluators often prefer a mixed method.

Cool Trick: I have experiences of how five impact assessment tools, two quantitative & three qualitative, were applied by evaluators and practitioners trained in ECB (evaluation capacity building). Evaluators work with investees in an effort to discover credible outcomes and impacts to be discussed with investors.

Leasons Learned: In my decade of teaching and using the Assessment Tools for Microfinance Practitioners  (AIMS-SEEP tools) on three continents, many found:

  • ECB helps investees develop their own hypotheses and indicators of the impact and adjust the tools accordingly. This prevents investees and investors from using standardized tools that do not capture pertinent impact.
  • By modifying mid-range impact assessment tools, investees come close enough to finding impact (association rather than attribution that some stakeholders require) and obtaining information that their organizations need to improve impact.
  • Tools measuring satisfaction are a helpful complement. If clients are not satisfied, they do not stay long enough to obtain impacts.
  • With the assistance of very few professional evaluators, these mixed method tools have been adjusted by hundreds of staff members of investees in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Some evaluations involved 50 staff working in multiple languages, cultures, and religions over a month.
  • Major US & European investor institutions (e.g. Oikocredit) and international donors (e.g. USAID) have found this methodology credible rather than the tempting “one tool fits all” worldwide.
  • Investees are emboldened to speak truths to those with power over current and future investments. This allows them to more strongly negotiate terms as well as to make practical changes to increase impact with low-income women and clients.

Rad Resources:

Hot Tip: I will be sharing more about this on Thursday November 1st at 8:00am!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Social Impact Measurement Week with our colleagues in the Social Impact Measurement Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our SIM TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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