Shared measurement versus evaluation in collective impact

By Jess Dart and Jen Riley.

Shared measurement is a core part of collective impact (CI), a form of place-based approach to collaborative, community-directed efforts to bring about social change. In a nutshell, shared measurement is the “use of a common set of measures to monitor performance, track progress towards outcomes, and learn what is and is not working in the group’s collective approach” (John Kania, FSG).

Why shared measurement

Shared measurement involves collecting data and measuring results consistently on a short list of indicators at the community level and across all participating organisations. This not only ensures that all efforts remain aligned; it also enables the participants to hold each other accountable and learn from each other’s successes and failures (CFI).

Shared measures allow a collective impact initiative to:

  • improve data quality
  • track progress toward a shared goal
  • enable coordination and collaboration
  • learn and course correct
  • catalyse action (CFI)

Why shared measurement should be used wisely

If considering shared measurement, here are some things to keep in mind. Cabaj (2014) cautions overemphasis on shared measurement as the only or central element of a learning and evaluation strategy, and points out it can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavour. Some practitioners from the field have also indicated that some Collective impact initiatives have become ‘stuck’ in the development of their shared measurement framework.  We see that is some cases evaluation is being underdone. Our hunch is that the focus on shared measurement is hollowing out the focus on evaluation.  There is a tendency to spend ‘evaluation budget’ on shared measurement rather than on evaluation more broadly.

Where shared measurement and evaluation diverge and meet

As shown on the diagram, shared measurement and evaluation overlap. Shared measurement provides data against key indicators about baseline and trends at the population level that are used as part of the evidence for evaluation. Yet shared measurement can also play a critical role in setting the overall agenda and priorities that the collective and the community wish to focus on, and this aspect falls outside of evaluation.

In terms of the ‘shared’ nature of evaluation, this framework encourages you to develop population (community) level indicators in a participatory manner involving community, key service providers, and other collaborators. Yet we suggest that not all aspects of evaluation need to be shared by all parties. In this evaluation framework, we note where shared measurement fits with evaluation, but the focus is more on evaluation rather than shared measurement.

Co-author Jess Dart is the founding director of Clear Horizon.

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