WITH SUCH A DIVERSE PORTFOLIO
— one that includes solutions used directly by workers and those that operate at the highest levels within corporate procurement and risk management – impact management and measurement is a challenge and resists easy quantification. We benefit from the support and expertise of an external team of Developmental Evaluators funded by the Laudes Foundation who help us learn.
The Working Capital Fund Developmental Evaluation (DE) presents a novel approach to impact management and measurement within an already innovative impact fund. Developmental evaluation is distinguished by its emphasis on ongoing learning and adaptive management, using flexible and tailored monitoring and evaluation techniques suitable for emergent initiatives and changing contexts. The DE uses a range of techniques adapted from domains including evaluation, investment due diligence, social accounting, and philanthropy, providing a systematic way of engaging in reflection, learning, and informed action to guide the journey to intended impacts.
To date the DE has focused on several key areas: enhancing the clarity and coherence of the impact thesis of the fund, expressed through evolving theories of change and impact pathways; knowledge generation through regular learning reviews; and testing alignment and integration across investee and portfolio decisions, through impact due diligence and investee engagement processes.
The DE team also provides direct support to investees to develop their impact measurement capacity and use of impact management tools and practices to advance their operational and strategic goals.
View From the Team
In 2021 the Developmental Evaluation (DE) team continued working with five of WCIF’s portfolio companies ventures to support the development of their impact measurement and management (IMM) capability. These ventures were able to access the DE team’s expertise when they needed it and were able to spend time focusing on this area of work alongside other priorities. The DE Team had learned that working in this demand-driven way gained the most traction for ventures and the WCIF provided the flexibility needed for us to be able work with ventures at their own pace. On the venture side, readiness to undertake and benefit from developing their IMM system includes a degree of operational and technical solution maturity.
To engage effectively in their IMM development, early-stage ventures need to have sufficient practical experience in piloting their solution and operating as a company. When these conditions exist, companies are able to gain value from engaging in an IMM development process. This process itself can add value as it provides a systematic approach for companies to stop, reflect and learn from their experiences. Once ventures have some operational insights, they are in a better position to use what they’ve learned to make any adaptations needed to increase their intended impact. It is also important for companies to have sufficient experience in working together so that IMM activities take place in a collaborative space in which company leadership and staff have developed beneficial relationships and reached a stage where they’re ready for critical assessment.
IMM guidance, standards, and examples of impact reports are increasingly available but there is no ‘one size fits all’. It is also clear that because WCIF portfolio companies are early stage and focused on innovation they are more interested in flexible, lighter touch IMM systems that in turn require IMM support that’s agile and able to draw on a diverse range of knowledge and expertise.
Through working directly with early-stage ventures on their IMM development, the DE Team were better able to connect the dots and inform updates to the WCIF’s impact thesis and impact measurement. The WCIF’s impact story is realized through the companies it funds, so impact needs to be understood at both a venture and portfolio level. The ventures’ journeys to impact include three layers: the impact of the innovative solution; the pathway to market; and the route to systemic impact – sector, industry, market, etc. As the ventures’ theories of change and impact measurement approaches are developed, we are learning how to scope and measure the impact of the WCIF at these different levels. This includes understanding when what and how the WCIF can reasonably expect to report on worker impact but also what impact information can be reported each year. In 2021 the DE Team has observed positive IMM developments – both for the WCIF and the ventures it funds.