Measuring Social Change
Performance and Accountability in a Complex World
Alnoor Ebrahim


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

This introduction explains why it is critical for social sector leaders to be strategic about measuring the performance of their organizations. It lays out the three main challenges of social performance that they must address: what to measure, what kinds of performance measurement and management systems to build, and how to align multiple demands for accountability. It also provides a brief synopsis of each chapter of the book, including its conceptual framing, the four case studies at the heart of the book, and a concluding chapter on the roles of funders.

1 Conceptualizing Social Performance in a Complex World
chapter abstract

Chapter 1 provides the conceptual underpinnings for the book. It summarizes the foundations of organizational performance assessment, drawing from the literatures in business and nonprofit management, program evaluation, and development studies. It then develops two frameworks for measuring and improving social performance. The first is a general model of social sector performance comprised of three core components: an organization's value proposition, model of social change, and accountability priorities. All organizations need to define these clearly to make systematic and measurable progress in addressing social problems. The second framework introduces two contingent factors that all managers must understand in developing their performance systems: uncertainty about cause-effect, and control over outcomes. These two factors provide a basis for differentiating among four types of social change strategies: niche, integrated, emergent, and ecosystem strategies. The key managerial implication is that each type of strategy requires a distinct type of performance system.

2 Niche Strategy
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Chapter 2 examines performance measurement in organizations that adopt a niche strategy, where the relationship between cause and effect is relatively well understood, but there is low control over long-term outcomes. Under such conditions, managerial attention is best focused on implementing the intervention with high quality—with a focus on short-term metrics of activities and outputs, rather than on long-term outcomes. This requires a performance system based on standardization and quality control. Such a niche strategy is illustrated through the case of Ziqitza Healthcare Limited, a social enterprise that is one of the fastest growing private ambulance services in India. The chapter also draws briefly on other examples of niche strategies such as post-disaster emergency response.

3 Integrated Strategy
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Chapter 3 explores the performance systems necessary for supporting an integrated strategy, where the relationship between cause and effect is relatively well understood, but where multiple interventions must be combined in order to produce outcomes that are greater than the sum of their parts. Here, the core task of a performance system is coordination, which involves prioritizing and sequencing a portfolio of interventions. The chapter looks at a series of integrated interventions in rural natural resource management that aim to increase incomes of smallholder farmers. It follows the experience of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in India over a 20-year period. The chapter concludes with other examples of integrated strategies, including an even more complex endeavor to assist people living in extreme poverty by BRAC in Bangladesh, and a pipeline of educational interventions developed by the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City.

4 Emergent Strategy
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Chapter 4 examines an emergent strategy in global policy advocacy work, where the relationship between cause and effect is complex, and where an organization's ability to control policy outcomes is severely constrained. This strategy is illustrated through the case of a global network organization called WIEGO—Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing—which advocates for the rights of workers in the informal economy. The organization cannot attribute improvements in the working conditions of informal workers to its interventions (outcomes), but it can reasonably claim to have "influenced" global and national public standards on measuring the informal sector (interim outcomes). Executing such a strategy requires a performance system based on adaptation that enables the organization to quickly act on new opportunities to influence key actors within its organizational ecosystem. Such a performance system is relevant to a diverse range of social interventions.

5 Ecosystem Strategy
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Chapter 5 details an ecosystem strategy, where cause-effect relationships are complex and multiple organizations collaborate in order to increase their control over outcomes. In such settings, causal attribution is nearly impossible because organizations cannot reliably isolate their interventions from those of other actors in the ecosystem. The chapter shows that rather than trying to solve the attribution problem, managers are better served by building an orchestration system: developing shared (supra-organizational) performance indicators to chart the progress of the field as a whole, support collective learning, and align individual efforts towards joint goals rather than independent aims. This strategy is illustrated with the case of Miriam's Kitchen, an organization that aims to end chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C. by fundamentally realigning the efforts of over 100 nonprofit and public sector actors in the city. The chapter also draws upon the growing "collective impact" movement in the social sector.

6 Designing Social Performance Systems
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Chapter 6 brings together the key insights from the case studies in the book (chapters 2-5), synthesizing core learnings and revisiting key questions in the book: What should an organization measure? What kind of performance system best fits its needs? What should be its accountability priorities? The chapter provides a side-by-side comparison of the performance systems used in each of the case studies, identifying not only what they have in common, but also how they differ in fundamental ways. This analysis leads to a typology of four distinct performance systems—standardization, coordination, adaptation, and orchestration—each suited to supporting one of the four strategies noted above.

7 Roles of Funders
chapter abstract

This concluding chapter turns to the roles of funders in supporting performance measurement and management. Funders, be they grant-makers or investors, can help or hinder the organizations they support. Drawing on the experiences of three innovative funders (an impact investor, a grant-making foundation, and a bilateral aid agency), this chapter illustrates the critical roles that funders can play in enabling better performance measurement at four different stages of decision making—search, diligence, improvement, and evaluation. It also identifies a range of tools and methods that are useful at each stage. The experiences of these pioneering funders further demonstrate how measurement can help close the gap between upward accountability to funders and downward accountability to clients or beneficiaries. In closing, the chapter highlights the measurement challenges that funders face in assessing the performance of a portfolio of investments.