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At the Heart of Impact Measurement, Listening to Customers

Investors looking for data on social impact should start by helping investees deliver a compelling value proposition.

By Tom Adams, Matt Ripley & Ashley Speyer

Impact measurement has been called many things: confusing, costly, even quixotic. According to an annual survey of impact investors by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), unsophisticated measurement practice is one of the five biggest constraints to growing the impact investing market. But does assessing impact need to be so challenging?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Lean Data approach, which Acumen built specifically for measuring the impact of social enterprises and investors (see the SSIR article “The Power of Lean Data”), it’s that, at its core, learning about impact is grounded in a pretty simple activity: listening to open and unbiased feedback from customers. It’s something we can all do.

The good news is that this is increasingly the new normal for successful businesses. It’s even got a swanky new name—customer centricity—and it could be the single most important thing businesses do to stay ahead of the competition. According to a recent Harvard Business Review series, “The new source of competitive advantage is customer centricity: deeply understanding your customers’ needs and fulfilling them better than anyone else.”

Understanding customer needs is especially critical for enterprises aiming to create social impact, however most impact measurement practice relies on assumptions (“output” measurement). We tend to count the widgets we produce in the world and assume those widgets do wonderful things. By contrast, direct data collection from end-customers across what are known as “outcomes”—the material positive or negative impact of a product or service—remains rare. Without better information, we limit our ability to maximize the impact we create in the world.

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