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At the heart of impact measurement: listening to customers

Posted By Liza Curcio, Aspen Institute, Friday, December 8, 2017

At the heart of impact measurement: listening to customers
By the impact programme 

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 maximise the impact we create in the world. 


So why is more-progressive measurement so unusual? Many asset managers and their portfolio companies still see social-impact data collection as a burden something they do to satisfy reporting requirements. But when we reframe the conversation so that it’s about customer centricity and unlocking business and social value, notions of burden begin to recede. 


Overcoming the perception that impact measurement is an obligation rather than an opportunity is one focus of the Impact Programme, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) which aims to catalyse the market for impact investment in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The programme is undertaking research on the social outcomes of the Impact Fund, one of its investment vehicles, managed by the CDC Group, the the UK’s development finance institution. It is starting with a Ghana-based portfolio company and, together with Acumen’s Lean Data team, we aimed to apply customer centricity to better understand social value. This initial work has continued to strengthen our conviction that for commercially successful, impact- creating companies, investors and enterprises alike overstate the dichotomy between impact and business data. We can learn much about social performance by unpacking consumer and supplier behaviour, and listening for useful feedback. By focusing on uncovering the “why” of what customers do and do not value, this approach improves companies’ ability to glean insights it can turn into action. 


Of course, customer centricity is not a silver bullet for measuring impact, but it holds much promise for understanding social performance while simultaneously collecting data to further business goals. 


The following case study shares practical guidance on how to use customer centricity to meet data collection needs for both business and social performance measurement.


Download the report here. 

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