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SIM TIG Week: The Growing Case for Evaluation in Social Finance and Impact Investing by Veronica Olazabal

Hey there! Veronica Olazabal, Rockefeller Foundation and incoming President-elect for AEA here to ask you a question: How are we holding ourselves accountable to the trillions of private sector dollars directed toward generating social and environmental good?

Building on a rich and growing evidence-base, transparency in social finance was a topic discussed at AEA20 with John Sherman, Deborah Rugg, Jane Reisman and me. Today, I share the white and grey literature you should consider as you ask yourself whether this is a place for evaluators to engage.

So, where is the evidence-base in social finance?

When asked this question in 2015, as explained in a recent SOPACT webinar, Impact Measurement Norms for Powerful Results, I was surprised to find the evidence-base was limited and that this field was heading down a path of “impact washing.” 

This hypothesis was validated by two pivotal reports: The 5th Wave: Social Impact Evaluation by renowned evaluator Robert Piccioto and Streams of Social Impact Work by a group of senior evaluators including Jane Reisman, Karim Harji, Ted Jackson and Nancy MacPherson. Assessment of the tools commonly used to measure “impact” was the focus of a 2016 landscape Jane Reisman and I conducted. That same year, then AEA president John Gargani organized an AEA pre-conference called ImpCon and launched the AEA SIM TIG to bring the two worlds of impact measurement and evaluation together. The topic, anchored by well-recognized Anne Vo and Christina Christie became a special edition of the American Journal of Evaluation in 2018 followed by a special edition in the African Evaluation Journal in 2019. 

As a handful of evaluators, including Michael Patton through Blue Marble Evaluation, began to ask evaluative questions, study this field, deconstruct the tools, consider the gaps etc., something interesting happened, the practice of impact measurement evolved. Fast forward to today, while not there yet, norms and best practices of what is now called impact management have emerged discussed by Jane Reisman and I in The Global Handbook of Impact Investing. Evaluators are now poised to influence the policy discussions happening across social finance including through the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) and World Benchmarking Alliance. And actors such as Salesforce have pulled evaluators into their Impact Measurement Today (IMT) initiative with Monitor-Deloitte and the Global Steering Group for Impact Investing (GSG). For those of us in this work, one thing is apparent, we need more evaluators like you to bring your skills to bear on this rapidly growing and evolving area!

HOT TIP: This is a thing – get involved!

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