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Feature  |  Innovation

The Impact Compass


8 November 2017 at 4:52 pm
Lina Caneva
The Center for Social Innovation (CSI) at Stanford Business School in the US has examined the elements needed when gauging social impact – identifying six key dimensions and crafting a visual representation to explain them.


Lina Caneva | 8 November 2017 at 4:52 pm


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The Impact Compass
8 November 2017 at 4:52 pm

The Center for Social Innovation (CSI) at Stanford Business School in the US has examined the elements needed when gauging social impact –  identifying six key dimensions and crafting a visual representation to explain them.

Called the Impact Compass Tool its aim is to help individuals conceptualise impact and compare the relative potential for impact of different jobs, programs, investments or donations in the context of limited access to impact studies and insider information.

According to the CSI, philanthropists can leverage the Impact Compass to answer questions like which deal will maximise the impact return of their investment dollars or which organisation will make the most of their donation.

Drawing on both the extensive literature of impact measurement and the expertise of academics and practitioners in social innovation, CSI said its Impact Compass helped conceptualise impact and provided the tools to assess the relative social impact potential of various organisations, programs, or start-up ventures.

CSI said organisations typically maximised their impact when they:

  • addressed a dire societal need;
  • designed effective interventions;
  • addressed the issue in depth;
  • delivered at scale;
  • anchored their mission through organisational features that would carry them for the long haul; and
  • operated in a way that added value to all constituents involved.

“Using the six dimensions of the Impact Compass allows us to compare the significance and nuances of the potential for impact of various organisations,” the CSI compass development team said.

“The impact potential score is obtained by multiplying an organisation’s scores on the six different three-point scales. The model simulates the need for all elements to be in place to make progress toward an organisation’s or program’s impact.

“It represents the amplifying and interactive power of each of the six dimensions of impact on all others (in contrast to a simple additive sum).”

The CSI team said a further project might look into the relative influence of the six impact dimensions in different industries.

“In particular, we expect the ESG dimension to play a less critical role in service-oriented than in product-dependent activities. Whereas the impact potential score is an overall summary, managers should pay close attention to the six individual elements,” they said.

However, a lower impact potential score doesn’t necessarily indicate a less worthy opportunity.

“Conceptually, the best possible intervention to cure an orphan disease will always score lower than the most perfect solution to end poverty for billions of people,” the CSI team said.

CSI director Bernadette Clavier said in the compass white paper that there was a “seventh dimension” that was often considered.

“Philanthropists deciding where to direct their hard-earned resources and prospective employees making job decisions generally consider a seventh dimension which represents their personal fit and passion for the issue,” Clavier said.

“The relative impact potential scores of different interventions are designed to achieve the same societal outcomes provide helpful insights for decision-making.

“Our students have used it to think through internship and job opportunities, to analyse the impact promise of investments, and to design their own social ventures. To compare organisations, some students like the compounded impact potential score best; others find the visualisation more expressive and nuanced.”

Download the Full Impact Compass here.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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