Digital solutions for the aid sector should aim to have a positive social and/or environmental impact that can be measured when possible. If your digital solution is innovative, there are three main areas that you need evidence for:
For an overview on monitoring and evaluating technologies, see:
For information on SROI, see:
- Guidance on Starting Out and SROI
- The Seven Principles of SROI
- The SROI Network: Standards and Supplements
Use DIAL’s SROI guide to help build your impact measurement:
- Evidence of the impact of the problem
- Evidence of the impact of your solution on the problem
- Evidence of how your solution is better than comparable solutions
You will also need to understand what audiences there are for your evidence. Who are you trying to convince—members of the buyer, user, and/or target impact segments? Each of these segments may require different evidence or ways of receiving that evidence. You will also need evidence to help you further develop your product or service. The best way to gather this evidence is to have feedback mechanisms in place for users and target impact segments. This should supplement the continual monitoring of key metrics that are being tracked regarding your product or service delivery.
If your digital solution is used for back office processes (e.g., value for money or supply chain management software), then evidencing your impact on the problem you are trying to solve is feasible. But evidencing how your digital solution is impacting the target impact segment of the aid agency you are supplying can be extremely difficult to do.
Case Study: Back Office Digital Solution
Helios is an IT solution for the humanitarian supply chain, enabling field teams to manage program supply chains as an integral part of the project cycle. It was specifically developed to be deployed by any agency working in poor infrastructure and for users with low IT literacy.
According to its website, successful implementation at Oxfam shows the solution can cut the time and cost of paperwork in half, giving aid workers more time to work directly with local populations delivering lifesaving assistance faster.
Case Study: Digital Green
“Digital Green has defined a series of metrics to monitor the impact of its digital interventions on farmer productivity. Monitoring data indicates that its video interventions raise farmers’ productivity by 21 percent. In its next five year strategy, Digital Green has increased its target to increase productivity by 40 to 50 percent."
Source: Beyond Scale
Social Return on Investment
One way you can measure impact is by using the social return on investment method. Within the context of information and communication technology, a product’s scalability is key. Thus, the SROI approach is a good method to use in order to capture nonlinear aspects as projects are scaled.1
SROI is a systematic, outcomes-based impact evaluation that works to incorporate the outcomes across a large number of stakeholders with the aim of capturing a more holistic value of the product with regards to economic, environmental, and social outputs.2 These outcomes can be positive, negative, intended, or unintended, so must be considered holistically. SROI computes the ratio representing the total social value created for every unit price invested, meaning it measures the value of benefits relative to the costs of achieving those benefits. It should be noted that the financial component is critical, but it’s not the only factor to take into account for SROI.3
The SROI method involves data collection and data analysis. This requires knowledge of survey design, cost structure, research design, Microsoft Excel, and project modeling. If you are administering a forecastive SROI or a future SROI projection, you’ll need to identify the timespan you are attempting to measure. In assessing a product’s SROI, it’s crucial that you follow the following principles:4
- Involve a wide range of stakeholders
- Understand what changes
- Value the things that matter
- Include what is material
- Do not over-claim
- Be transparent
- Verify the results
These principles create an analytical framework that incorporates qualitative, quantitative, and financial information, as well as case studies. SROI benefits include providing accountability, change management, cost and time effectiveness, and a ratio that serves as a clear indicator of value for organization stakeholders.5
Case Study: ICT WACAS Programme (empowering women Nepal)
Goals of the study:
- Perform an SROI on the ICT WACAS Programme (empowering women Nepal).
- Although multiple outcomes are identified for the participants, there is limited data available, which results in various outcomes being excluded from the return on investment calculations. The evaluation of the program can capture outcomes for the 307 participants in Nepal and the volunteers from Denmark. The results demonstrate a significant increase in income for the women in the program and show where the value is being created. It would be possible to compare with an SROI of a similar project, but given how bespoke the analysis can be it may not be a useful comparison.
- For participants, examples are: Increasing employability, networking, and access to resources; reducing risk of STDs and unplanned pregnancies; improving ICT, quality of life, and education; increasing income.
- For volunteers: Relevant experiences and improved quality of life.
- Contributors: Financial input training and delivery and improved self-confidence.
- Additionally, the program aims to account for deadweight and displacement, as well as valuing non-monetary outcomes.
- The analysis shows the program has an SROI of 2.38:1 after five years. It also calculates that the payback period is one year and 9.5 months and that at 20 years the SROI is 8.81:1.
- Includes high-level project costs (both fixed and variable).
- Stakeholders considered: Women participants, contributors, volunteers, management, and families of the participants.
- Participants and volunteers fill out a survey at the beginning of the program and at the end.
Source: DIAL SROI
It’s important to have evidence of the impact of the problem, the impact of your digital solution, and how your solution compares to other similar solutions.
Depending on what your digital solution is aiming to achieve, it can be easier or harder for you to measure its impact. This is particularly the case for back office or sector agnostic innovations.
There are a number of methods for analyzing the impact of your digital solution. We have provided a guide on SROI as one of the best methodologies.
Complete the following in your Business Model Sustainability Canvas:
- Identify the key social impact that you are trying to create on your canvas.
- The SROI Network. (2012). A guide to social return on investment.↩
- The SROI Network. (2012).↩
- Measuring Value: A Guide to Social Return on Investment. (2008).↩
- A Valuing Impact Toolkit. “Social Return on Investment (SROI)”. DIAL (2020). ↩
- Measuring Value: A Guide to Social Return on Investment. (2008).↩