Measuring metrics that matter

How do we know if progress is being made in social development interventions that we are implementing? How do we know if our education, health or livelihoods programme is making a change in the country? These questions are the critical ones when we want to measure impact.

And to answer these questions, measurement metrics are a key nexus to monitoring, evaluating and learning, as governments, NGOs, M&E professionals and social investors move towards contributing to the SDGs and goals of the National Development Plan. Measurement metrics are units of measure that demonstrate change over time. They are important tools to measure performance and progress. In order to effectively measure change and, ultimately, impact, we must have the “right” metrics to track targeted outputs and outcomes.

Measurement metrics should not just be “thrown into the mix” to fill up an M&E Plan. Too often, Tshikululu sees social investors that take a scattershot approach to metric development, trying to measure everything and anything they can think of. This may create the illusion of impressive measurement, but more often than not it just creates a lot of problematic noise. Two of our guiding M&E principles as a business are “Less is more” and “So What?”. First, we strive to keep our M&E processes, indicators and reports simple and accessible to effectively communicate to the broadest possible audience. Second, we always choose our indicators carefully, only collecting data which is important and useful in making better decisions.

Following these principles allows Tshikululu to intentionally measure change. With few but carefully selected metrics, you inevitably focus on what matters (and not what may be interesting, but isn’t actually that important). This approach allows us to detect and eliminate failures during project implementation, as well as identify what works.

When choosing metrics, consider the following steps:

  • Brainstorm a possible list of metrics for your initiative. Start broad, as this is the time to throw lots of indicators into the mix!
  • There are lots of different frameworks – including SMART and SPICED – but at Tshikululu, we assess each potential metric using the CREAM approach. In other words, is the metric Clear, Relevant, Economic, Adequate and Monitorable?
  • Based on this criteria, you should select the most appropriate metrics for your work.
  • Finally, you can draft metric protocols, which are instructions that capture the reasons for selecting indicators and identify plans for data collection, analysis and review.

It is imperative that anyone involved in impact-related work develop metrics to ensure they are measuring what is important and are also able to account for every Rand spent. Output and outcome indicators are proxies of impact, so ensuring that you have the correct metrics from the onset is a key step towards ultimate goals. Find the metrics that truly matter, and you will be well on your way to success.