Social Impact Measurement TIG Week: IMM at the Mission Investors Exchange National Conference: Power, Systems, and Building Bridges by Laura Budzyna

Hi everyone! I’m Laura Budzyna, and I’m an impact measurement and management (IMM) consultant and communications lead at AEA’s Social Impact Measurement TIG. Today, I’m writing in the afterglow of the Mission Investors Exchange 2022 National Conference, a biennial gathering of impact investors in philanthropy, to share a dispatch with the evaluation community.

IMM had two big moments at MIE. The first was a panel, “Reaching the Inflection Point on Impact Measurement & Management,” moderated by Mike McCreless and featuring Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, Lindsay Smalling, Sarah Gelfand, and Brian Komar. I moderated a second conversation titled “What is Equitable Impact, and How Do We Know?” between John Sherman, Rebecca Marx and Andrea Armeni.

If you’ve followed the discourse on IMM in impact investing, you might have expected a conversation dominated by the familiar themes of standardization, impact washing, and incoming regulation. If so, you’d have been surprised; the conversation at MIE was on a different level.

Takeaway 1: For foundations, IMM is about power.

“Is it the role of IMM to facilitate shifts in power?” For the first panel, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Lindsay reflected that listening is part of shifting power, by replacing the “arrogance and ignorance” of top-down metrics with outcomes that stakeholders value. Tynesia argued that metrics can be a forcing mechanism for power shifts – even one indicator around inclusive decision making can open a door to underrepresented perspectives. Brian added that goals and timetables can drive transformation. Sarah noted that there is power in the act of IMM itself, and that investors can share power from designing their strategy to responding to results.

Takeaway 2: Place-based investing opens the door to participatory approaches and systems thinking in IMM.

Place-based investing, the local deployment of impact capital to address the needs of marginalized communities, demands a different type of IMM than thematic investing. John pointed out, the unit of analysis is the community, not the project or individual. Rebecca and Andrea illustrated that impact is not just defined by changes in state but also by community ownership over the process, governance, and decisions. And as all the panelists warned, any attempt to work without understanding the broader system and engaging allies is doomed to fail.

Takeaway 3: Philanthropy-led impact investing could be a bridge between the evaluation and finance worlds.

Multiple attendees remarked that the timbre of the conversation at MIE, with its focus on power, equity and voice, was markedly different from discussions in mainstream impact investing circles. The SIM TIG often cites a “language barrier” and a “culture clash” between the worlds of social change and finance, calling on our fellow evaluators to be bridge builders. Mission-driven investors from philanthropy can be allies in this role.

Doodle notes depicting Laura's takeaways regarding the reaching of the inflection point

I doodled highlights from the first panel, which I’ll sum up like this: IMM can give the impression of accountability, or it can drive it. It can perpetuate bias, or it can root it out. It can stifle voice, or elevate it. It can preserve power, or shift it. Here’s to setting a higher bar.

Rad Resources

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Social Impact Measurement TIG 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.

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