Shared Approaches to Measurement

Shared approaches to measurement are a hallmark of all professions.

Medical professionals employ an increasingly sophisticated array of machines and tests to measure human health, and even professional athletes are judged against increasingly elaborate benchmarks. But how do social and environmental nonprofit professionals evaluate their effectiveness?

Back in the early 2000s, while working with The Nature Conservancy I was privileged to join with a group of conservation nonprofit leaders to help establish the Conservation Measures Partnership, known affectionately as the CMP. The CMP bought together a diverse group of conservation practitioners concerned about their collective ability to assess and articulate the impact of conservation investments. Unlike medicine or sport, there were very few commonly accepted measures in use and no standard frameworks to roll up results at different scales.

The CMP pioneered novel approaches to measuring collective impact, from developing new ways to speak a common language (e.g. standard taxonomies for threats) to a new generalized approach to conservation project management, known as the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation. The Open Standards provided a framework for sharing conservation approaches across different organizations and led to the development of a conservation project management software known as Miradi. The Open Standards also enabled increasing collaboration between organizations and now provide a professional base for powering shared global conservation initiatives.

As these programs and professional initiatives continue to evolve, I’ve been excited to contribute to the application of Open Standards to new projects and development capacity of new practitioners using these tools. Increasingly I find opportunities to link my experience with the CMP and Open Standards with other social and environmental investment projects. Shared measurement has become an increasingly active focus for numerous nonprofit collaborations including the increasingly high profile Collective Impact approach developed by FSG. Over time, we will see further coalescing of the many measurement tools and approaches being built.

Having served on the working groups of the Global Reporting Initiative, an international collaborative that underpins global sustainability reporting practice, I can attest to the challenges in finding common ground on indicators and standards. Perhaps not quite as complex as reconciling metric and imperial measures, but you get the picture…

So what is the takeaway for social and environmental investors?  Before you invest, ask about the measures that will be used to inform your investment’s performance.  If there are none or if they don’t seem likely to give you a true sense of performance, you should look at alternatives… or perhaps reframe your investment to help build out the metrics that are needed.