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October 7, 2021

Improving Data Management to Maximize Social Impact

For charitable organizations, the need to measure social impact is vital. The sole purpose of their services is to help people and make lives better. Understanding how their work is changing people's lives is crucial to make changes for improvements and course-correct if it's not working. Accurate data is what they need to track the effectiveness of their service.

For charitable organizations, the need to measure social impact is vital. The sole purpose of their services is to help people and make lives better. Understanding how their work is changing people's lives is crucial to make changes for improvements and course-correct if it's not working. Accurate data is what they need to track the effectiveness of their service.

"You can have an excellent strategy and a really good data collection, but if you're just using paper and excel, somebody's got to pull that data together to make some sense of it." - Zak Kaufman.

Zak Kaufman, Co-Founder & CEO of Vera Solutions, has been working for charitable institutions for a long time now. His passion started at Grassroot Soccer when he managed the data systems and spreadsheets used to track their programs. 

He witnessed firsthand the inefficiencies of the data systems of the organization. It wasn't scalable, and it lacked the intelligence that the staff needed daily. As their organization grew, the more it got messier. They were accommodating 50,000 kids a year and were using paper and excel to record their data. 

There were a lot of weaknesses in this system, including the fact that only one person would be able to see all the data. People who were gathering the data didn't have feedback loops and will not be able to see the efficiency of their work. Data quality and people's motivation is suffering. 

This prompted Zak to come up with a system that would improve all these gaps. He has made it his mission to help charitable organizations manage data / track the impact of their work and the services they deliver to their clients. 

Not only does he provide the system, but his company also does consulting work. They work with clients to discover their real needs and design the system for that specific requirements. In addition, they help migrate legacy data into the new system and do training and support for the people that will be using the new system. 

Vera solutions works on the premise of the Four Pillars for Monitoring and Evaluating the Social Bottom Line:

  • You need a good strategy

It starts with a good plan of what your key indicators are. Things that you should be tracking that will indicate the impact of your work and how much change you are driving per individual or household. 

  • Effective Data Collection

You have to have a data collection tool and methods aligned with your strategy and will minimize bias on the data. 

  • Good System

If you don't have a good system, none of it matters. To minimize errors and data inefficiency, you need to have a flexible system with data analysis features and simple enough for everyone to use. 

  • High Capacity

You need to have enough person-hours to apply skills, and you're not stretching your staff too thin. If you don't have capable people to do the work, then your system falls apart. 

Solving for Impact

To truly measure social impact, Zak uses this equation:

(Reach x Effectiveness x Magnitude of Problem = Impact)

While Reach is straightforward to determine, which is just the number of people benefiting from the program, Zak believes it should also be broken down into more specifics like geography, households, and other categories that could be used in a more meaningful way. 

Measuring the effectiveness of your program can be tricky as it can be done in multiple ways. You can start by surveying your participants and get some feedback from them, or you can run randomized control trials and follow them over time. The key is to find the right balance on what works for your organization. 

Lastly, the magnitude of the problem is an integral part of the equation. Suppose you are trying to solve malaria in a place where there are low malaria incidents. In that case, your impact will be pretty low compared to organizations focused on high infected areas. 

Conclusion

Having transparency and data-informed decisions are extremely important in the social sector. By providing these things, Zak has changed the way these organizations work. He is a genuinely inspiring entrepreneur who is helping a lot of organizations how they help people. 

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