Metrics for Building, Scaling, and Funding Social Movements | Beth's Blog

Metrics for Building, Scaling, and Funding Social Movements

Leadership, Measurement

Investing in movements or networks for social change is a strategy that some funders are using.  But, how do you measure the results?

Marino Morino, who wrote “Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity” pointed me to this recent report, “Transactions, Transformations, Translations:  Metrics That Matter for Building, Scaling and Funding Social Movements” by Manual Paster, Jennifer Ito, and Rachel Rosner with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and funded by the Ford Foundation.   The report addresses metrics for success for investing in broad field social movements or networked approaches to social change.  The report is written for funders and those on the ground doing the work in the context of networks, although it doesn’t go deep into practice.

The report captures a conundrum in measuring social change movements or networked approaches.    Outcomes for “wicked problems” can be easily counted – policies passed, housing the homeless, educating children.  But there are less tangible results such as “we changed the frame” or “we shifted members’ consciousness” which for grassroots organizers on the ground view as the vibrancy of the network .   The report lays out some new metrics for movement building – that are paths to the more easily counted tangible results and where the unit of analysis is the movement or network, not an organization.

As the report points out,  movement organizers are grappling with big questions.  It is less about how to raise funds for their organizations (although that’s important) but focused on the big picture:   What is the long-term change that we want to see?  What is needed to achieve it?  What roles do different organizations play?    The report identifies metrics to measure progress around this these questions – it asks and answers – “What exactly are the right metrics for today?

“Amazing large numbers of members, staging marches, and winning campaigns – all these remain important measures of a successfully growing movement.  There are, however, other equally important aspects that are often missed in the numbers alone, including the fundamental changes that a leader, organization, or community experiences through their involvement in organizing and advocacy.”

The report suggests that one needs metrics that represent two sides:

Transactions: These are markers, both internal (number of members) and external  (voter turnout).    While the data is not always to collect, such measures tend to be easier to track because they are more tangible.    But they only tell part of the story and skip over the richness of experience and momentum that can be a prelude to social change.

Transformations: These are important, but often “invisible” work.   They should how people, organizations, and movements have been altered through the collective efforts.   They can also show how societal or political views have been shifted.   These metrics are more qualitative in nature which makes them more difficult to define, capture, and track.

The report argues for using a combination of metrics to tell the fuller story of a movement’s success.  It goes on to define both transaction and transformation metrics in different categories for movement or network building which serves as the meat of the report.

  • Community organizing
  • Civic engagement
  • Leadership development
  • Alliance building
  • Campaigns
  • Research and policy analysis
  • Communications and framing
  • Media
  • Organizational Development
  • Movement Building

One of the most useful parts of the report is a two-page spread that illustrates sample metrics for transformations and transactions for each of these categories or a “metrics tool kit.”   The metrics are not intended to be prescriptive, but the reports recommends that movements need to co-create their metrics so the metrics transcend the organization.   For this to happen, organizations need to the space to begin to work together to build the common language and frameworks for these metrics to hold up against different approaches and models.

There is a category for traditional and social media and a couple of paragraphs in the report.    That’s exactly what the book, “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” that I wrote with KD Paine and will publish later this year is about it.

The report included a section on recommendations, including building the metrics tool box and building movement capacity to use metrics.   One of the resources that is mentioned in the book is a Progressive Technology Project’s database technology set up to track this work.   Here’s what the report said about capacity building:

Of course, metrics tools only work if you have skilled craftspeople who can use them effectively.   The presence of such metrics mavens varies across the landscape of movement organizations.    Metrics and measurements need to exist at every level of organization, but it makes a different when someone is in charge and helps organizations stay on track.   While community organizers often find themselves pressed to take the time to assess in light of daily crises and immediate problems, movement builders have learned the power of reflection and refreshing.  Metrics can help, and building them into organizational culture can be facilitated by having someone with responsibilities to make it happen – and to steep others in the new practices.

We spent a chapter or two talking about exactly how to put this into practice because is this a very important point.

The point that the report makes and I agree is that measurement needs to value both transformations and transactions – and that requires new attitudes and approaches.

Anyone out there using metrics to measure movements?

Update:  Special thanks to Victoria Vrana who shared the report with Mario who shared it with me … a networked approach to sharing of networked metrics!

8 Responses

  1. This is great stuff Beth – thanks so much for sharing! I’m starting to think more about measuring the impact of all these movements we so float across our screens on a daily basis. Very helpful.

  2. Margaret Egan says:

    As always Beth (thank you Mario Marino as well) this is more food for thought in the ever expanding measurement and movement building ecosystems.

    Again, and always, my worry is about how to present a usable tool that assists in the “ah ha” opportunity == the Metrics That Matter framework included with examples is important.

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  5. Tracey says:

    Thanks Beth, this is a problem we struggle with in the arts constantly. The simple Transactions/Transformations makes it easier to explain to program staff the information I need for our funders.

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  7. Beth says:

    Tracey: OMG, you are so right for making that connection. I love the framing. What arts organization do you work for? Do you do program evaluation?

  8. […] organizers and others actively involved in movement-building. (Thanks to Beth Kanter for bringing it to my attention, and to Mario Morino for bringing it to hers.) In their conversations, the authors observed a […]