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When you’re trying to build a movement, how do you know if your effort is reaping results? Across all the types of enterprises in social change, movement organizers are often seen as the polar opposite of straightforward service providers such as soup kitchens.
It might be hard to quantify the emotional benefit of getting a meal when you’re hungry, but it’s often enough for the people running the kitchen (or providing the funds) to know that those in need are being helped. The situation is far more complicated for the people organizing civic action, whether one as wide-ranging as Occupy Wall Street or as focused as the campaign against fracking. You can measure the number of people who show up at an event, but how can you measure the gradual shift in mindsets, greater levels of political awareness, and the strength of grassroots leadership?
The essence of the challenge is that there is often a mismatch between the outputs that can be counted but might not be meaningful and the outcomes that might not be countable but are the reason for doing the work. Noah Rimland Flower writes about his own experience.
I had to wrestle with that challenge in the work we did to design volunteer programs for Service as a Strategy, an initiative that gives mayors a set of instructional “blueprints” for calling on volunteers to help advance important policy priorities. It was essential for every blueprint to provide clear metrics for showing the value of the work, but my team often found that the outcomes operated on a far longer time horizon than the outputs that we could recommend counting.
Manuel Pastor, Jennifer Ito, and Rachel Rosner released Transactions, Transformations, Translations: Metrics That Matter for Building, Scaling and Funding Social Movements last October, based on input from over sixty experienced organizers and others actively involved in movement-building. In their conversations, the authors observed a marked shift in both the mindset around measurement and the tools for accomplishing it.