SIM TIG Week: Ventures at the Helm by Laura Budzyna

Hi everyone! I’m Laura Budzyna, and I’m an independent consultant focused on impact measurement and management.

Last year, Karim Harji , Penny Hawkins, Heather Hachigian and I set out to create a guide that would help social ventures (also referred to as social enterprises) choose the right impact measurement and management (IMM) approach for their stage in the scaling journey.

We thought ventures’ IMM would start simple and get more complex as they scaled. But when we spoke to ventures to learn about their IMM journeys, they told us a different story. They described, instead, an adaptive and iterative process responding to ever-shifting questions.

We liken this experience to sailing through uncertain waters. As conditions change, sailors adjust their sails, change direction or speed, drop anchor, or alter their route altogether. A tool that is right for one phase of the journey will be wrong – or possibly even harmful – at a different phase. The autonomy to act and adapt is critical.

Charting a Venture’s IMM Journey

We identified four phases that ventures pass through along their impact creation journey. These phases don’t always happen in the same order, and ventures may pass through the same phase again and again. Ventures enter, exit, and revisit these phases in response to their needs, inflection points, resources, and changing contexts.

  • Orienting is an intentional, defined moment of framing and goal setting. It can happen in a venture’s early stage or during any time of intentional pause and reflection.
  • Navigating is a continuous period of exploring new opportunities and testing questions. It often takes place in the early stage as a venture is seeking proof of concept and product-market fit.
  • Sailing is a continuous period of moving and managing towards a streamlined and optimized set of goals, often during a time of greater demand and momentum.
  • Tacking is an intentional, time-limited pivot or adaptation to a new opportunity, need or question, often in parallel to the core business.

In each phase, ventures are grappling with different questions. Ventures in an “orienting” period may pose questions like, “What is our impact goal?” and “Who is our target user?”

Ventures in an exploratory “navigating” phase are actively testing assumptions and gathering feedback, tackling questions like, “What do our customers think?” and “What outcomes are we observing so far?”

Once they’re “sailing,” streamlined ventures may shift to questions that integrate impact with business performance, like, “Can we lower costs and still preserve impact?”

And “tacking” ventures facing a new challenge or opportunity may ask, “Can we preserve – or deepen – our impact under these new conditions?”

Each of these questions demand different IMM strategies. A “sailing” venture with a stable business model can collect standardized metrics as part of integrated, tech-enabled operations, whereas a “navigating” venture may prioritize collecting open-ended data directly from users. A venture that is “tacking” may benefit more from a time-limited deep dive on a specific question, while an “orienting” venture might call a staff retreat to revamp its theory of change.

Lesson Learned

When ventures align their IMM approach with the phase they are in, and with the questions at hand, IMM drives impact creation. When IMM is out of sync, it hinders impact creation. Misalignment is common, and it’s often driven by the expectations of investors and the norms set by practitioners like us. We all have a role to play in ensuring that ventures have the support, realistic expectations, and leeway to make their own IMM choices.

Rad Resource

Download the full guide here: Ventures at the Helm: How Ventures & Investors Navigate the IMM Journey, Together.

This week, AEA365 is hosting 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.e.

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