Measuring and Managing impact during the wake of COVID-19

COVID-19 has not only brought the world to a standstill, but it has thrown us into the future where there is no choice but to use technology to work collaboratively and remotely. The pandemic has forced us to start thinking differently about how best to harness our resources and technology for good. As at 11 August 2020, more than 20 million cases of coronavirus have been confirmed globally, with 735 000 deaths to date. In South Africa, we are heading to over 564 000 COVID-19 infections and over 10 600 deaths. COVID-19 has not only left countries reeling, but has forced social investors – whether they are grantmakers or impact investors – to think creatively about crafting solutions that are responsive to the current environment.

Social investment responses have taken a variety of forms, including emergency food parcels, provision of PPE, water supplies, psychosocial support, educational support (e.g. data for e-learning) and support to small business, to name just a few. Although the examples of social investors contributing to the fight against the virus are powerful and inspiring, accountability and transparency of social spending is just as – if not more – important today than before the pandemic. Impact Management and Measurement (IMM) under these circumstances is particularly challenging given restrictions on movement and the rapid evolution of conditions in communities all over the country. With this in mind, social investors must identify smart and intelligent ways of collecting, monitoring and reporting data.

There are numerous remote data collection and monitoring methods/tools that IMM practitioners can use to collect data in order to monitor COVID-19 response interventions. For example, China, South Korea and Taiwan have started using mobile applications powered by artificial intelligence to trace infected people. In South Africa, the Department of Health has announced that it will start using cellphone location data for contact tracing as well. Simple surveys requiring USSD codes can be sent to mobile phones in the remotest areas of the country (and one does not need a smartphone to engage). This allows for rapid data collection where it is difficult to reach. Online survey tools, such as SurveyMonkey, can also be used to collect both qualitative and quantitative data and analyse responses quickly. In order to understand the needs of the most vulnerable, social media platforms such as Facebook can be used to create polls, while Focus Group Discussions and Key Informant Interviews can be held on WhatsApp. Photos and videos telling impact stories can be shared on social media platforms to show responses “in action” (e.g. food parcels or water tanks being delivered). Lastly, Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping is a critical technology during the pandemic. GIS mapping allows IMM practitioners to capture and analyse spatial and geographic data. It has allowed Department of Health to plot COVID-19 hot spots and respond appropriately.

All of these strategies not only allow IMM practitioners to collect real-time data remotely, but more importantly to make informed decisions about social spending and resource allocation. Tshikululu is utilising technology to engage with the sector’s response to COVID-19 in several ways. We are currently carrying out a “rapid response” survey with our network of nearly 1 000 organisations we work and partner with every year. This will help us build a deeper understanding of how the pandemic is impacting on important development work around the country and gain insight on what the “post-COVID” world may look like for these stakeholders. In addition, we are mapping our clients’ impressive response to the pandemic thus far – they have allocated more than R300 million in funding to date – to prevent duplication and identify opportunities for leverage.

Needless to say, everything has changed and the world will never be the same. For social investors, utilizing technology, and taking an agile approach to measurement, can help clarify how these changes are taking place, and what they mean in the short-, medium- and long-terms.