Welcome to aea365! Please take a moment to review our new community guidelines. Learn More.

Evaluation 2022 New Actors Working Group Week: Who Are the “New Actors” in Evaluation? An Evaluator’s Guide to Impact Investing, Social Finance, and Beyond by Shawna Hoffman and Courtney Bolinson

Hi! We’re Shawna Hoffman and Courtney Bolinson: evaluators, members of the Social Impact Measurement TIG, and part of the 2022 conference planning committee. 

A core focus of this year’s conference theme is “New Actors” – but who are these new actors, and why should we – as evaluators – care?

For decades, governments and nonprofits remained the dominant commissioners and consumers of evaluations and evaluative services.  Today, the social impact landscape is evolving with the proliferation of new market-based players endeavoring to do good. New actors like impact investors, social entrepreneurs, and even some corporations are investing hundreds of billions annually in the name of having an impact.

As evaluators, we have choices to make vis-a-vis these new actors:

  • Whether and how to meet this growing demand for evaluation services that is coming from stakeholders we haven’t typically worked with – and, frankly, whose intentions we are sometimes skeptical of;
  • How to meet these new actors “where they are” – while at the same time holding them accountable for real, tangible impact on people and the planet; and
  • How to bring the best of our evaluative thinking and toolkit and apply them in a way that’s fit-for-purpose. 

It’s our belief that the opportunity for evaluators working in social finance extends beyond ensuring that investors are not “impact washing.” Instead, we believe evaluators should be supporting new actors to deepen the way they assess and manage their impact by engaging community members and including risks to impact and potential unintended consequences.

Hot Tip:

You can find a description of the conference theme, (re) shaping evaluation, on the AEA conference website. 

So who exactly are the “new actors” in this context? Check out the table below that describes who we see as the main new actors.

New actorDescription
Impact investorsIndividuals, companies, or funds who make investments with the intention of generating social and environmental impact alongside financial returns. 
Social enterprisesBusinesses that are designed to achieve a social purpose alongside making a profit. 
Assurance industry/accounting firmsIndependent professional service firms that traditionally provide accounting and finance validation, and that are now branching into impact measurement. 
Solution providersAn organization that offers any combination of computer hardware, software, and consulting. In recent years we have seen providers focused on the data collection and impact measurement space 
RegulatorsIndependent government agencies whose primary purpose is to enforce the law against market manipulation. For example, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the EU Commission. 
(Hot tip: See the AEA’s comments on SEC climate disclosure rules.)
Quasi-public agencies, like the International Financial Standards Board, are another type of regulator.

Rad Resource:

The Impact Management Project’s Glossary clarifies the similarities and differences in language used among a number of impact-focused disciplines that often interact.

Hot Tip:

Join the Social Impact Measurement Topical Interest Group (SIM TIG) to learn more.

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. 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.

2 thoughts on “Evaluation 2022 New Actors Working Group Week: Who Are the “New Actors” in Evaluation? An Evaluator’s Guide to Impact Investing, Social Finance, and Beyond by Shawna Hoffman and Courtney Bolinson”

  1. Catherine Dun Rappaport

    I appreciate this blog, especially the notes on (justified) skepticism, but also the need to meet the new actors where they are. (I am leading related work at Social Finance and am glad to hear that AEA friends are wrestling with issues similar to those that I tackle.) Hope to see you both at AEA!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.