Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Currency of Good Data

Measurement was a hot topic at the Council on Foundations' annual conference last week in Washington D.C. As data and evidence-based decision making continue to wend their way to the center of today's philanthropy conversation, funders and grantees increasingly look to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) for proof of a solution's value and to make programmatic improvements. Rigorous approaches such as Randomized Control Trials are considered the gold standard of impact measurement, and systems like the Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS) have been developed to standardize social, financial, and environmental performance metrics. Now, networks such as ANDE are encouraging grantees and funders to move beyond standardization and to integrate impact metrics with financial and operational processes, while broadening the collection and distribution of data to benefit an entire ecosystem or society.

Despite these positive trends, M&E is still hard to do well in developing countries. Good information is difficult to obtain, and its collection costs time, effort, and money that many feel would be better spent on direct beneficiaries. Furthermore, many grantees on the ground still struggle with basic evaluations, much less the rigorous M&E systems preferred by many funders. Grantees also frequently need help integrating this data into feedback loops and decision processes in order to make operational improvements.

Practical M&E programs in the developing world means measuring the right indicators with the right approach and the right amount of rigor. For corporate funders and CSR groups, measuring the business value alongside social impact is critical to conveying the full value of programs and ensuring continued financial support. There is an excellent opportunity to share the cost of collecting and analyzing program data with other donors and private sector players. Solid data - particularly on the opaque small-business sector - could help partners improve programs, design products or services, develop strategies, and create effective marketing campaigns. The collaborative approach to development is not new, but the currency of good data has the potential to bring a lot more collaborators into the tent.