Pressing world problems like the rising tide of inequality and climate change cannot be solved by the public sector alone. This is one of the realities motivating venture philanthropists and market-oriented impact investors to bring billions of dollars of resources and innovations to activities addressing our world’s social and environmental threats. These new actors are accustomed to data and actively engage in strategic and resource decisions based on dashboards, metrics, and performance measures.
Those of us with long suits in the social sector know that there are no quick fixes, that data comes in many shapes and forms, and that whoever shapes the evaluation question has tremendous power over the solutions that are pursued. Yet, evaluators are not the “go to” profession for these newly arriving social impact actors. Interestingly, a major foundation recently sought to fill its director of evaluation position with someone who was familiar with evaluation but did not identify as an evaluator. Another major foundation is seeking to fill its highest-level evaluation position with someone who hails from a Fortune 500 background. And, at the 2015 SoCap conference of impact investors and social entrepreneurs, only one person in a crowded room had heard of the American Evaluation Association—the world’s largest professional society of evaluators!
The evaluation community has more than 75 years of experience, models, methods, and practical experience in measuring and evaluating social and environmental change. However, this community cannot simply transport its experience base into the new arena. It is time to move toward new mindsets, methods, and paradigms that will most effectively contribute to this new world order–but it will take some listening and learning to best understand that world order’s context, mindsets, and organizational realities.
It is now time for us, as evaluators, to promote that there is enormous value in our multiplicity of ways, that we produce and learn from sturdy data, and that we are ripe partners for the new actors in their quest to establish that they are really making a difference—or for determining when it is time to make adjustments or even exit and try something else.
The Rockefeller Foundation has published two working papers that challenge both the evaluation and impact measurement community to find ways to work together successfully: “Streams of Social Impact” and “The Fifth Wave–Social Impact Evaluation.” It is time to find ways to bridge these divergent streams and to co-create the fifth wave of evaluation. The time is now. And the bridge needs to be built by actors in both of these streams.