Social impact measurement superstars light the way to better outcomes

Posted on 13 Dec 2021

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

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Australia’s best social impact measurement practitioners have been recognised for showing the way forward for social sector actors wanting to demonstrate their results.

The fast-growing new measurement economy now spans across the work of grantmakers, philanthropists, governments, charities and not-for-profits. Most are now expected to prove their stated outcomes to justify spending.

The 2021 Social Impact Measurement Australia (SIMNA) awards, streamed live and online this month, shone the spotlight on the country’s best projects with Our Community sponsoring the “leading funder” category.

Winners and finalists represented the cream of measurement experts working in government, disability, homelessness, social services, indigenous communities, financial help, family support, migrant support, and community development.

The awards were witnessed by policymakers, academics, researchers, funders, grantmakers and investors and officially opened by Federal Minister Anne Ruston.

Each of the winners demonstrated groundbreaking techniques and better ways of working in the developing field.

Among the award winners included:

  • Excellence: Jointly awarded to Hireup and Uniting NSW.ACT
  • Innovation: Uniting NSW.ACT for its 360-degree outcomes measurement
  • Outstanding collaboration: Barang Regional Alliance for the Ngiyan Wayama indigenous data sovereignty project
  • Leading Funder: Equity Trustees for the Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project
Simon Faivel
SIMNA's Simon Faivel said the awards celebrate "the very best of social impact measurement."

Government tips big future for outcomes-led investment

In a welcoming address for the awards, the federal Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said she was a big supporter of good outcomes measurement.

“My hope is that social impact investing becomes the standard for funding government programs, because of its sharp focus on creating real and tangible outcomes”.

She said social impact investing had the potential to address “stubborn social problems” and that impact investments last year represented $29 billion worth of spending across 145 impact investment products.

She said $6.7 million had been earmarked for its outcome measurement initiative to further build the capacity define, measure and communicate outcomes.

Part of that funding would be for an online navigation tool to provide a central source of “credible and practical information on outcomes measurement”.

Top practitioner tailors tech for better lives

Judges could not pick a single winner for the main award for “excellence in social impact measurement”, instead sharing the honour between disability services outfit Hireup and Uniting NSW.ACT.

Hireup is the country’s largest NDIS registered online platform, helping people with disability hire and manage their own support workers.

The organisation impressed judges as an “emerging leader in the field” for its “superb example of embedded social impact measurement practice”.

Judges praised the project for connecting “tailored social services with technology” to demonstrate impact measurement excellence.

Hireup’s Joe Dreyfus said the organisation’s program gave “real-time insights on how we’re progressing against our social impact aspirations”. He said the tech-based service provider was able to “leverage our deep capabilities in human-centric design, data science and people-first service to contribute to quality of life for our community”.

He said the organisation used recognised methods to “measure and understand changes in quality of life of people with disability”.

“We think this is unique in the disability sector given our data collection is embedded in our users day-to-day use of our platform,” he said.

Homelessness service improves visibility with ‘360-degree’ vision

Fellow top winners Uniting NSW.ACT have pioneered a “360-degree outcomes measurement” method for its specialist homelessness service.

The project created goals, then tracked the impact for clients, staff and partners across the western Sydney region.

Project lead Garima Misra said the intent was to “understand the outcomes for all relevant stakeholders” and said Uniting was the first in Australia to “undertake a systematic and rigorous application of the 360-degree concept, and to do this at scale”.

The organisation was able to align overall goals across its stakeholder groups for mutual benefit.

Among the partners, High Street Youth Health Service’s Graeme Pringle agreed the approach had seen services working together for a better result for clients.

“It just enhances what we can do,” he said.

Judges praised the “holistic approach”, which had examined the entire Uniting system, and had “allowed feedback from important intermediaries to identify pain points, improve processes and enable better outcomes for service users”.

They awarded the prize partly because the approach had “helped to build an outcomes culture and real capability within the organisation.”

The method had “potential in many other settings and interventions” the judges said, an observation that played a large part in the organisation also winning the “Innovation in Social Impact Measurement Award” for the same project.

Indigenous-led project leads the way in collaboration

The Ngiyang Wayama Regional Data Network, incorporating the first nations term “we all come together and talk”, is a “data sovereignty project” improving data knowledge, including outcomes measurement, which is initiated and led by the Barang Regional Alliance on the central coast of NSW.

The effort was recognised for outstanding collaboration in a project that has involved an array of partners including four universities, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, other indigenous not-for-profits, the Indigenous Data Network, Seer Data Analytics and Goanna Education.

The project will help indigenous groups to write evaluations, develop meaningful data for service planning, create improvements in local organisations, and develop a sophisticated data understanding within the indigenous community.

Barang Regional Alliance project leader Corrine Hodson said Ngiyang Wayama was the first Aboriginal data network in Australia, acknowledging the past efforts of her elders and ancestors in the work.

“We’re standing on the shoulders of giants, and this work obviously is a collaborative effort that has been led by a number of incredible individuals in our community.”

“Our point of difference is that we’re working from the inside of the system as instigators to change the process,” she said.

Judges described the effort as a “fantastic model” involving a grass roots, community-driven initiative working to give the community sovereignty over their own data, and said it deserved to be “celebrated, supported and encouraged.”

They lauded the organisations focus on creating an Indigenous-led project in which others participated on their terms.

Barang case studies summary

Funder lights the way for community development

This year’s leading funder in social impact measurement was Equity Trustees, which is managing funds for the McEwen Foundation.

The foundation has been supporting the Greater Shepparton Lighthouse project since 2014, and recently agreed to a 10-year funding extension.

Equity Trustees’ Emily Cormack said the initial seed funding aimed to “galvanise the community to improve the lives of young people”, with evaluation processes “embedded in the work”.

She said the foundation’s support had leveraged further funding from government, other philanthropic groups and local supporters.

Lighthouse project executive officer Lisa McKenzie said the funders’ long-term support, flexibility, trust and “whatever it takes thinking” meant it was able to adjust to the times, such as being able to feed 7000 people struggling through the pandemic lockdown.

The organisation’s evaluation methods synthesised qualitative and quantitative data to examine the organisations impact, relevance, sustainability, effectiveness and equitable practice.

“It hasn’t always been easy, but we have seen incredible results,” Ms McKenzie said.

Read the Lighthouse Project evaluation

Judges described the project as a “stand out”, demonstrating a “fantastic integration of data and decision making” of the “highest technical standard”.

They praised the fact that the funder had supported both “rich stakeholder conversations” and an independent evaluation, which influenced key decisions, while the funding demonstrated a rare long-term commitment.

SIMNA chair Simon Faivel, and a director of SVA Consulting, said the awards enabled the Australian social impact sector “to celebrate the very best of current impact measurement thinking and practice”.

He said he all nominees had demonstrated great “passion, drive, commitment, and thoughtfulness” in their practice and were among the best in the country.

Runners-up in the awards included:

  • Deloitte Access Economics for its social return on investment (SROI) analysis of the national Community Hubs program (in the “excellence” category)
  • Clear Horizon for its Connected Beginnings measurement and reporting solution to improve the lives of Indigenous children through community-led social change (for both the “innovation” and “outstanding collaboration” categories)
  • Ecstra Foundation for its financial wellbeing outcomes tool (for the “leading funder” category)

Readers can learn more about the winners in an upcoming a podcast series by Humans of Purpose to be released in 2022 and can watch the full ceremony soon on SIMNA’s YouTube channel.

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