A young, fast-growing consultancy has won Australia’s most prestigious award for social impact measurement.
For Purpose Evaluations, based in Sydney, has been awarded the Excellence in Social Impact Measurement prize, for its work with Guide Dogs Australia.
The award was announced as the highlight of the Social Impact Measurement Network Australia (SIMNA) virtual event last week, attended by more than 100 of the nation’s leading practitioners, many of whom joined watch parties held across the country.
Other winners included:
- Monash Business School and The One Box for their outstanding collaboration in a weekly food program for families in need operating in five states; and
- Hayball and the Australian Social Value Bank for innovation in a pilot study of the social value of architecture and design in a Melbourne residential project
The awards won attention at the highest levels of government, with Australia’s Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Dr Andrew Leigh – a self-confessed evaluation wonk – officially opening the event.
SIMNA co-chair Sarah Barker said the awards were “a terrific way to showcase the best of the best in social impact measurement in Australia”, noting that the high calibre of entries had forced judges to award multiple runners-up in every category.
Guide dogs impact measurement leads the way for others
Judges were full of praise for the top award.
For two years, For Purpose Evaluations has worked with Guide Dogs Australia to develop a national social impact measurement framework to better understand the effectiveness of the charity’s work with people with low vision or blindness.
The effort brought together four guide dog organisations in six states and territories, closely examining the social impact of their help across occupational therapy, orientation and mobility training, psychology, social and community support, and the use of seeing eye dogs, as well as research, advocacy and community education.
The framework is expected to be fine-tuned in future iterations.
Judges said the project was “informed by relevant research and the contributions and insights of staff, but more importantly it genuinely builds on the experiences and insights of users who were actively engaged in the co-design process”.
Judges praised the emphasis on improvement, including an openness to sharing why things were not working, and the fact that findings were shared publicly.
For Purpose Evaluations founder and managing director Eleanor Booth, whose business is nearing its fifth anniversary, said in a LinkedIn post that the prize “means the world to us”.
She praised a “creative, diligent, enthusiastic and clever” team for coming away with SIMNA’s top prize and also credited the “effort and commitment from all the Guide Dogs Australia organisations involved”.
“This is an impact framework with accessibility at its heart. The contributions from Guide Dogs Australia staff, volunteers and clients from across Australia have strengthened, deepened and refined the work into something to celebrate. Their courage in committing to the process of impact measurement, sharing their results openly and with genuine curiosity deserves this acknowledgement.”
“It has been a privilege to collaborate with organisations that do such great work,” Ms Booth said.
The business won the innovation category in 2020 and was a runner-up and finalist in several categories before taking out the top gong this year.
Jock Beveridge, the CEO of Guide Dogs Queensland, said in a video pitch to judges that the project had enabled the organisation to know whether its programs were having their intended outcomes for clients, their families and caregivers.
“Importantly, it tells us where we are doing well, and where we’re doing better.”
He said it had been a challenge requiring high-level creativity and consultation to successfully pull together the work of four organisations across Australia, but the collaboration had been a “delight”.
Runners-up commended in this year’s ceremony were:
- Milk Crate Theatre, now leading the arts and culture sector in impact measurement
- Salvation Army Youth Services, which introduced a new outcomes measurement framework to help improve interventions and support services
- National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and NDIS for their “learning by doing” work with stakeholders to see which processes were working best, including using a dedicated evaluator
- Redkite, a charity supporting children and families affected by childhood cancer, which collaborated with stakeholders to develop a client outcomes framework
- GOAL College for refining its success with its Measure What Matters survey suite
- ReachOut, an online service supporting youth mental health, which measured social value within its web-based self-help and support platform
Minister lauds rise of social impact measurement
Addressing delegates and praising the “champions of social impact measurement”, Dr Andrew Leigh said the Commonwealth was a “proud supporter” of the event, with the government committed to putting evaluation evidence at the heart of policy design.
He described measuring social impact as “a critical component to achieving strong outcomes for Australian communities”.
“The Australian government is placing a greater focus on outcomes, partnerships, innovation and investment to bring about significant change in the way we deliver services and achieve outcomes for Australians who are experiencing disadvantage,” he told attendees.
“We're moving away from a top-down approach and embedding social impact and partnerships with communities at the heart of our investment decisions.”
He said government programs such as one targeting entrenched disadvantage were “in part made possible because of the emerging field of social impact measurement and the evidence base it helps build”.
The importance of the work was why the government had set up the Australian Centre for Evaluation to improve the quality of evaluation across government.
“We need to measure what matters, who it matters to and figure out what works. The opposite is also true: We need to figure out early what's not working, so we can stop it and try a different approach.”
“None of this can be done without effective measures, robust data sets, and ongoing research.”
Social impact leaders predict the trends
Ahead of the award announcements, SIMNA brought together some of the leading thinkers on social impact measurement for a panel discussion.
Hosted by SIMNA board member Aden Date, the Perth-based arts, culture and social impact consultant, a trio of experts discussed the coming of age of the social impact measurement field and the “growing pains” on the way to maturity.
On the panel were:
- Anthony Cavanagh, Ganbina CEO
- Kathy Richardson, Our Community executive director
- Siobhan Henderson, Australian Unity strategy and impact manager.
The wide-ranging conversation riffed on the field’s adolescence, defining the differences between social impact measurement and evaluation, the role of technology, and the growing support for social impact measurement by government and funders.
Ms Richardson summed up the tone of conversation when she told listeners that Australian governments and major funders were taking social impact measurement much more seriously.
“People are actually talking about understanding more about … all of these billions of dollars that we're throwing into social, economic, cultural change [and] what effect they're producing,” she said.
She said she believed technology had reached the point where it could “democratise access to the tools to track impact, but also the knowledge around it”.
This included the ability to build tools such as outcomes assessments, framework “generators”, data visualisation tools, and metrics libraries, as well as the means to share those tools.
She said the SmartyGrants Outcomes Engine was part of her organisation’s commitment to facilitating better tracking the impact of grants.
The advent of artificial intelligence also opened the prospect of further unlocking insights from data, she said.
“Who knows where we’re going to go next? Obviously, that’s scary, but it’s exciting as well.”
Our Community enterprise SmartyGrants is a sponsor of the SIMNA awards.