For more than 30 years, God has given me the privilege of working in many disadvantaged countries with the aim of putting people’s lives on a higher trajectory, enabling them to take advantage of new opportunities to escape the tangled web of visible and invisible constraints that hold them back.
Wherever I go, I make a point of visiting Christian ministries to discover what they are doing to make a difference in the lives of the poor. I know that most forms of physical poverty have deep spiritual roots, and most secular approaches to development completely miss this. As such, Christians are uniquely equipped to address both the spiritual and physical dimensions of poverty.
In my travels, I became increasingly distressed by the work of many Christian ministries. Despite their good intentions and efforts, their work was often ineffective because they had no way of assessing if they were making a difference in the lives they sought to influence. This prompted my wife and me to found Concentric Development for the purpose of partnering with Christian ministries to help them achieve more with the resources God has given them. The purpose of our work is to increase the value of the gifts these organizations receive from generous donors.
The Missing Piece
As I began partnering with Christian ministries, I discovered that most, if not all, believe their work is topnotch. They have moving stories from the field and pictures to prove it. I also discovered that often people measure their impact by how hard they are working and the number of activities they have conducted.
I would often hear them talk about how many teachers they trained, vacation Bible schools they held, the number of people treated in free medical clinics, or handpumps installed. Their efforts were deemed successful by how much they did, not necessarily how deeply they impacted those served.
In fact, few could provide any evidence that the lives of the people they serve had improved in tangible ways. They couldn’t say if learning outcomes had improved, or more people had gotten jobs, experienced an increase in household income, or if the handpumps they installed were still functioning. I was struck by the lack of curiosity and follow through.
There seemed to be an assumption that since God had called them to their task, hard work and faithfulness was all that was needed since God would certainly bless their effort. Although following a calling, working hard, and having faith are integral pieces to the puzzle, I saw a piece missing. As stewards entrusted with resources given to us in Jesus’ name, we should be unrelenting in our pursuit of excellence, and that includes developing frameworks for measuring the impact of our work.
Developing a Framework
The first step towards increasing impact is figuring out how to measure it. It does not need to be complicated. A good place to begin is by asking the questions, “What are we trying to achieve?” and “What would success look like?” You would be surprised by how many organizations have not given these questions substantial thought.
Once a clear purpose is articulated, the next task is to outline the steps by which day-to-day activities should contribute to achieving this purpose. Once these steps are documented, it is not difficult to identify observable changes each step will mark – changes that can be measured. With this kind of framework in place, an organization then has a tool to find out what works and what doesn’t, and they can learn from their own experience.
Over the past four years, I have assisted Edify to put such an impact assessment system in place, and I am proud to say that impact assessment is now at the heart of everything Edify does. It has taken time, but impact assessment has become part of Edify’s DNA. Before any new program is implemented the team first has to clearly articulate how it will contribute to achieving Edify’s mission and explain how its impact will be measured. In fact, even documenting a school visit requires a statement of what outcome the visit is intended to achieve. This discipline has shifted Edify’s focus away from a primary emphasis on activities, toward achieving outcomes and seeing long-term impact in their partner schools. It takes hard work and sustained effort, but the results are worth it.
Edify now is making considerable strides in their efforts toward improving Christ-centered education. By evaluating current activities in existing partner schools, efficiency is greatly increased which further improves the likelihood of success for future partner schools and expansion into new countries.
Measuring impact matters because it is an integral piece to the puzzle of bringing various organizations’ mission and vision to fruition. The work we pursue should be done with excellence, and to do that we must ask good questions to see what is working and what is not. The people we intend to help should be served well and we have a divine responsibility to be good stewards with what the Lord has entrusted to us. As more organizations and ministries begin measuring impact, I am excited to see the transformation that will take place for underserved people, communities, and nations.
Jonathan Mitchell is Founder and President of Concentric Development, Inc. He is currently Edify’s South Asia Director and Interim Program Director of NE India as well as advising and mentoring Edify’s Impact Assessment Team. He combines his work and travel with a love of photography and in his spare time at home, he enjoys woodworking and backpacking with his family.