How to measure impact
When I was in Stockholm with the OpenTechSchool last november, we had the great opportunity to go to TEDx. There we met a remarkable Person, Professor Mark Smith, talking about his hackerspace at University and how to measure impact. He made the point that the current way University measures success, by the papers published, is disconnected from the impact it really has. And he opens the questions: how can we measure impact?
Just to clarify, we are not just talking about success. Success often is linked to status or money from an exit or building a big company. While you can have a huge impact and still be very small and just highly efficient. Other things are successful in the sense they are a big company and employ many people and stuff, but have very little impact due to working on stuff that doesn’t really matter or are executed very inefficient. In a way success and impact have a relationship similar to effective and efficient. They often confused, they mean something very different. Actually many people throught history have not been successful in the classic sense but their work had high impact on society (sometimes not earlier than their death).
Since I heard Mark speak about that this thought is stuck in my mind. As entrepreneurship in my opinion does not mean making millions and build big companies but making a dent a the universe I am far more interested in the question what impact someone/something has than the money it generates. Some things can only have their impact by using as little money as possible. And as a strong believer in the principles of Lean Startup, I do believe you shouldn’t do anything you can’t measuring - even marketing. Unless you measure the result, how can you confidently state you are getting anywhere? But that last, the big one, that is really hard to measure. How can you measure impact?
Or maybe there isn’t any universal way to track this? For example there are very interesting discussion how to measure the impact of journalism, while those measurements Bill Gates is talking about in his annual letter focus on fighting polio and poverty and both have totally different indicators and numbers they look at to measure their impact. And they are not comparable at all.
But what if there is? What if there is a way we could measure the impact of different people, companies and organisation active in completely different fields. Such a measurement would probably have to focus impact it has on the individual as well as the one it has on society in general. But can you weight those against each other? What is worth more, to change the lifespan of one person or to create a software that allows human kind to move forward in general?
Those questions probably require more discussion. But what already becomes obvious reading this article is, that whatever measurement you are taking to figure out your impact it has to put the recipient, either the individuals or the society, at its center.