Hi, I am Ben Fowler, a Co-Founder of MarketShare Associates, a global social impact consulting company. We focus on measuring the social impacts created by companies, investors, foundations and bilateral and multilateral funders. Social impact measurement (SIM) is a quickly evolving space. Significant effort to date in measuring SIM has been on quantifying and benchmarking companies’ economic, social and governance (ESG) performance, looking at a variety of company-level metrics. This focus can create helpful incentives to improve performance and is relatively easy to measure. Yet this focus on ESG risks overlooking the critical perspective of other constituencies that these companies impact, including their customers, suppliers, and others. In fact, it can quite quickly put the focus almost entirely on what is captured by these metrics.
We know that gaining the perspective of diverse stakeholders is absolutely critical. In our own work we help collect this stakeholder feedback to enable fast cycle learning. In doing so, here are our:
- Technology has made this a lot easier. Widespread mobile phone ownership has greatly reduced the costs of reaching and communicating with important constituents.
- Collect feedback regularly. Stakeholder feedback should not only be collected once a new initiative is well underway to understand its impacts, but also during design and roll-out.
- Don’t overcomplicate it. There’s often a tendency to want to ask everything you can. Doing so is counterproductive as it reduces the likelihood stakeholders will engage in the future, and reduces the quality of the data that you receive. Short is sweet.
- It’s not enough to just collect feedback, you also have to do something about it! The point is not to just receive input, but to practically reflect upon and use it. Otherwise it’s just a waste of time. Asking how feedback has been used can be a really simple but revealing question.
- The insights can be powerful. We’ve seen a lot of ‘aha’ moments when sharing with companies the feedback collected from their customers on how their current operations are perceived. These insights have directly led to greater social impact as these companies adjust what they do to better serve their customers; in some cases, overhauling their business model in part or in whole.
- Move beyond optional. While there are cases where collecting and incorporating feedback is mandated, this remains the exception rather than the rule, particularly in developing countries. The power of stakeholder feedback is likely to be best realized if it stops being a choice that companies have and is a required feature, particularly in due diligence and auditing.
- Check out the Impact Management Project’s guide to using self-reported data for impact measurement, which gives lots of tricks for capturing stakeholder voice.
- Feedback Labs provides evidence for the power of collecting and using feedback.
- And this case study on our collection of stakeholder feedback gives some examples of how we have done it in practice.
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