Wanting to have an impact on your community is a great idea. And great ideas can go a long way. In fact, great ideas are the basis of community development programs that want to make meaningful change. But after the initial phase of deciding to work for neighborhood flourishing, it takes real work to determine how to have a lasting impact. Defining meaningful change and charting a strategy that includes neighbors is key to making a real difference. But first we must understand what we’re trying to accomplish and how to understand it. That’s where Community Impact comes into play.
What is community Impact?
Community Impact is long-term efforts to support systematically marginalized neighborhoods. By definition, Community Impact extends beyond temporary reforms. Likewise, it does not attempt to treat the symptoms of inequality. It addresses systemic issues within neighborhoods and intervenes to produce lasting changes.
Longevity is the return on investment when you put your best foot forward. The end-goal is to see thriving and flourishing communities.
Nonprofits may introduce programs that are great in theory, but the goals may fall short. Too often, programs are introduced that are geared to relieving the effects of material poverty without addressing the root causes. At the Lupton Center, we know that relief efforts vary from developmental ones. Relief-based activities provide resources to mitigate the short-term pain of poverty.
Development-based activities create strategies to address the systemic forces perpetuating poverty. This is how the community can experience long-term Community Impact. Various methods measure impact, but the goal of Community Impact is to create a permanent ripple of positive effects.
Community Impact measures versus Community Impact Statements – what are each and how are they different?
The work you do as organizers or catalysts of community impact is ongoing. Community Impact Measures and Community Impact Statements are both helpful tools on the journey!
Community Impact Statements bring forth your neighborhood’s intent. They tend to come from neighborhood councils and other bodies that you will be partnering closely with to make lasting change. These statements are used to help clarify amongst stakeholders: what are you trying to accomplish? What impact are you looking for? They communicate the goals and desires about changes made within the communities. A good Community Impact Statement will reflect input from neighbors, partners, staff, volunteers, and others who will be collaborating in the work.
Once defined, Community Impact Statements can be used to propose plans about future and current efforts. They help you develop a specific framework for how you will move forward and what sorts of initiative will be poor, good, and best fits. Perhaps most importantly, a good Impact Statement will help you see what initiatives you should decline. A program can be great, but if it doesn’t align, a Community Impact Statement will help you to identify that mismatch and avoid a lot of lost energy! Examples of community impact statements can be found here.
Community Impact Measures, in comparison, are indicators to analyze impact. Community Impact Measures serve as a way to identify your goals and track progress towards them. They serve as a form of metrics to help you see if your intent is matching up with the actual results being produced! You can read more about how we measure impact at the Lupton Center here.
Think of community impact measures and community impact statements working in tandem. They link the desired vision of impact with what is being done and the change that’s actually happening because of what you’re doing.
Why should we Measure Community Impact?
In a word: accountability. We have seen too many well-meaning organizations slide in to measuring what they’re doing without ever checking to see if it’s making a difference in neighbors’ lives. Measuring your Community Impact provides a way for your neighborhood and stakeholders to speak back into what you’re doing, and it helps you know if you’re being effective. Good measures provide an insight for what works and what isn’t working. In this way, they help you avoid doing harm.
What is a Community Impact Assessment?
Community Impact Assessments (CIA) are tools you can use to test the effectiveness of your work. They are snapshots in time of different aspects of your community development work. At the Lupton Center, we aggregate data about your neighborhood like the current economy, environment, and demographics. This analysis assists you in looking at overall flourishing, or quality of life, both within your organization and because of what it’s doing.
Assessments indicate what is happening, in the moment. They may not necessarily dig into your specific programs and the impact those programs are having. It’s a broader, more expansive view. But holistic development work will likely include impact assessments over time. It’s all part of the process!
How do we measure impact?
So how exactly do you measure impact? Here are three areas of components to look at. Each provides a view into a community’s ability to thrive post-intervention application.
The connectedness found within communities is a strong indicator of health. Leadership, community faith, and senses of belonging to name a few. They create a space for individuals and their families to thrive.
Structural indicators allow us to dissect the safety and foundation of these neighborhoods. The physical location and the environments provide an insight of health. Included but not limited to: educational institutions, mental and physical well-being, and services that foster security.
Economically, the stability of the socioeconomic factors point to program effectiveness. The employment of individuals within the community is one of several. Housing security and home availability based on population size. Job accessibility to maintain diverse incomes and even local businesses. These all factor into individual and local health, and the sustainment of your efforts.
Our team has put together all of these areas and used them to create our team two Impact Matrices we combine in the SPIRE Assessment.
Relationships and Participation
This Impact Matrix considers the correlation between two of SPIRE’s Assessment Areas – Relationships and Participation. When there is both low participation from Program Participants and a low level of relational connectivity between those who are leading the programs and the intended beneficiaries, we are functioning in a provision capacity. Needs are being met, but systems, lives, and communities remain unchanged. To increase relational connection without partnership, though, may only move us into the work of protection. We may know people more deeply, but our unwillingness to trust their gifts, voice, and leadership creates a disempowering, paternalistic dynamic. Conversely, if we increase the roles and responsibilities of Program Participants without connecting at a mutually beneficial level, we may only be delegating tasks without actually working to empower real interdependent collaboration. The place where we all experience liberation, however, is when we both enter into personal relationships and into shared ownership of the work.
Integration and Solutions
Another Impact Matrix we use considers the correlation between a different set of SPIRE’s Assessment Areas – Integration and Solutions. When there are both low measurements of impact (success as activity) and a low level of integration in the understanding of why poverty exists, then we end up doing one-way relief. One group faces a material need and another group meets that need. If we only begin to emphasize greater solutions-based metrics without changing our understanding of poverty, then we can simply focus on personal growth or seeing behavior changes happen at the individual level. This rarely leads to the end of poverty. If, on the other hand, we begin to grasp the complicated and multi-dimensional nature of poverty without an impact-orientation, we can begin to simply expand our relief-based efforts to address more and more felt needs through multi-service betterment. When we expand both our vision of poverty as well as our metrics of impact, then we can get to work pursuing comprehensive flourishing in a community. That is where we all want to go!
Our mission is to ensure that your programs are not a temporary solution. Ultimately, we want the same thing you do – to see your neighborhood flourish. Understanding Community Impact is fundamental to making this happen!
The solution is not abundance and surviving but resiliency and thriving. Because activity does not define success; impact does. A goal, plan, and action can go a long way, but the continued investment is what makes a difference.
To learn more about assessing impact, we invite you to check out our course here!