Impact Focused Conversations
The Building Blocks of Measuring and Managing for Impact
According to the recent GIIN Impact Measurement and Management (IMM) survey, there are a number of encouraging trends in IMM practices and behaviors among impact investors, and widespread agreement on the importance of measuring and managing impact results. These are positive shifts in a market that has usually focused on the challenges and costs of IMM rather than emphasizing the importance of IMM for impact integrity and business value. While there has been progress on principles and standards, we still know relatively little about how investors are strengthening the integration of IMM within investment processes. There is also growing concern around the lack of transparency, narrow stakeholder priorities, and “impact washing”.
Our developmental evaluation (DE) with WCIF presents a novel approach to IMM within an already innovative impact fund design and focus. DE is distinguished by its emphasis on ongoing learning, adaptive management, and tailored monitoring and evaluation techniques in a continually or rapidly changing context. This is the first time that DE has been applied to an impact investing fund, and we believe it is particularly well-suited to the innovative nature and objectives of the Fund and its supporters:
The Fund Seeks
The fund seeks to engage and influence a highly complex ecosystem characterized by contested issues and dynamic actors (including workers, corporates, and tech firms)
The Fund Uses
It uses a new tool – an impact investing venture fund, together with a sidecar granting facility – to identify and support an emerging ecosystem of tech-enabled solution.
The Fund Requires
It requires ongoing experimentation and testing, including identifying unproven tech solutions, innovative transaction and portfolio structuring, and impact management.
The Fund Recognizes
It recognizes that breadth and depth of potential impacts across investees, the portfolio, and the market will require a nuanced approach beyond standardized metrics and KPIs.
The Fund Leverages
It leverages a DE team that blends expertise in evaluation, systems thinking, impact investing, and IMM; with sector expertise in human rights and decent work.
The DE uses a number of strategies and tactics that have been adapted from the domains of development evaluation, investment due diligence, social accounting, and philanthropy, among others. Many of these have been adapted for market-based approaches, and include:
in addition to secondary data analysis from fund and investee reporting, we collect primary data from the fund, investees, and via external research.
we have collectively committed to a regular schedule of virtual and in-person meetings for reflection and learning, including bi-weekly, monthly, and quarterly engagements.
Impact due diligence
we converted the TOC into an impact due diligence process that is used across the portfolio and future transactions.
making a commitment to sharing learning with internal (fund team, LPs, investees) and external (impact investing and evaluation fields) actors
we have developed a draft tool to benchmark investee impact priorities and capacity that can be used post-close to inform support activities.
Theory of Change
we have continuously iterated and updated the theory of change over the last couple of years to reflect developments, and are now on a fourth version.
In this reflection from our first two years, the focus of the DE has been on two key areas. The first was to enhance the clarity and coherence of the impact thesis of the fund, expressed through various theory of change processes and products, and process accountability through regular learning reviews. The second is to test alignment and integration across investee and portfolio decisions, through impact due diligence and investee engagement processes. Our role as a “critical friend” to the fund allows us to be an “insider” to the fund team to act as a technical expert and process coach, while also maintaining an “outsider” critical perspective to provide feedback, push on assumptions, and identify possible impact risks or concerns.
In this initial phase of the fund’s lifecycle, with an initial deployment period of first-round investments that are testing new hypotheses to combine financial and social motivations within business models and tech solutions, we believe that this focus is entirely appropriate. We also recognize that our sphere of influence is limited by our interactions with the fund team, investees, and the scope of our DE contract; this includes limited visibility into some impact pathways (e.g. shifts in global corporate behaviors) and the “long-chain” impacts (e.g. social outcomes for workers and households, beyond immediate effects of reducing exploitation).
In this initial design and implementation phase, we are able to share four emerging lessons for fund teams and those that are supporting the design and development of IMM practices:
Progressively improve clarity and shared understanding of the impact thesis –
this applies within teams as well as across LPs and investees; as we note above, we updated the theory of change regularly to reflect the latest thinking, assumptions, gaps, and questions. This included soliciting individual team members and collective group feedback, posing critical questions, and drawing on external research and market trends.
Build discipline around impact-focused processes and learning practices –
over the past two years, we have developed a regular cadence of calls and in-person meetings to ensure process accountability so that impact considerations remain “top of mind” for the entire fund team. Our experience suggests that a synergistic combination of strategies and tactics (described above) is necessary, not just one or two.
Create trusted relationships and developmental protocols to support critical review –
as a DE team, our role as the “critical friend” involves asking direct questions on impact alignment, and occasionally pushing the fund team to explore deeper e.g. how impact considerations and risks are being identified, and valued within impact due diligence. We can do this well because we have built a trusted relationship that recognizes our shared objectives, and distinctive strengths as a DE team, including our collective expertise in international development evaluation, human rights, and impact investing.
Embrace the iterative nature of experimentation, learning, and improvement –
this fund and the DE is an ambitious and complex undertaking. Along with the fund and its LPs, we are also keen to get to the ultimate impact – including positive worker outcomes and corporate behaviors. However, we have also learned that the innovative and experimental nature of these interventions requires comfort with incremental learning and improvements as short-term impacts, while always maintaining a line of sight towards the long-term transformative impacts and their measurement at the time these manifest and become feasible to measure.
As we complete the first phase of the DE commensurate with the fund’s investment lifecycle, we are making adjustments to how we will work in this next phase (i.e. towards follow-on investments, portfolio management, and exits). We will be spending more time working directly with selected investees – going deeper on unpacking outcomes in the context of their business models, products and services, and users and beneficiaries. We will be exploring the different pathways of how the fund’s investment and non-financial contributions are – both directly and indirectly – influencing behaviors, outcomes for workers, corporates, and impact investors. And we will be exploring portfolio-level lessons and outcomes beyond individual transactions, to identify implications for impact risks, aligned exits, and ecosystem supports.