Social innovation is a critical function in every community. It’s the instinct that leads people to say “the status quo is broken,” and then go do something about it. It’s the engine that powers significant change from the bottom-up. And it’s the approach that brings people together to solve shared problems.
In a recent article we explored what we mean when we say “social innovation”. At Stand Together Foundation, our definition is rooted in the observation that our country’s social sector is structured around managing problems rather than addressing root causes. So when we look for social entrepreneurs to partner with (we call them Catalysts), we find leaders and nonprofit organizations who are focused on empowering individuals.
Check out these five organizations for examples of social innovation in action.
Of course, the measure of a successful nonprofit is never its strategy. How can you know if social innovation is really working?
At Stand Together Foundation, we think the way we measure success must change as much—even more—than our strategic approach.
Most nonprofit organizations measure inputs. They track how much money they raised, how many volunteers they recruited, and how many meals they served. These numbers are impressive. They attract more funding and media attention. But they are not a proxy for results.
You might even call these numbers vanity metrics; they paint a picture of organizational success, instead of really measuring how much value was created.
If social innovation is meant to remove major obstacles in individuals’ lives, we should measure the success of social innovation by whether or not individuals’ lives have, in fact, been transformed.
Our in-house measurement team developed a new approach, called the Personal Transformation Index, to help Catalysts track their impact on an individual level. Rather than assuming that a particular program is working just because it’s new and innovative, the Personal Transformation Index focuses on the experiences of individuals who participated in the program.
A traditional participant survey might ask, “What services did you receive?” Instead, we recommend asking, “To what degree did your engagement with this organization help you to transform your life for the better?”
That same survey might ask, “How did you hear about our program?” Instead, you can ask, “Do you feel that the program treated you with dignity and respect?”
The next time you set out to evaluate your own organization, try shifting your questions to measure the perspective of participants. The goal of social innovation is to empower others. What better way to measure success than asking them if they feel empowered?