It has helped me to think about social impact in terms of a spectrum based off of the concepts of systems thinking. On one end, you have “transactional” and on the other, “systemic”. There’s no inherent “good” or “bad” with either end of the spectrum, but it’s important to know where a solution fits.

Imagine we have a soup kitchen that serves 100 bowls of soup a day. They notice that there are still hungry people who aren’t able to eat, so this soup kitchen does what many nonprofits do: go on a marketing blitz to recruit new volunteers, start using social media to reach new donors, and find new better partners to enhance their operations. I would classify these outcomes as transactional impact. People will need to come back tomorrow and the day after for the same services and support.

Systemic impact, on the other hand, addresses the question: “why are there so many hungry people in this community”? Systemic impact looks to achieve outcomes which aim to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems. These solutions require data, experimentation, participation from different factions and consensus building. There are no easy answers to systemic problems so a longer time horizon is needed in order for people to learn and technologies to grow.

When companies are designing social impact strategies, it’s vital to know what types of problems they are intent on pursuing. This is a form of organizational awareness that can allow companies to maximize both transactional and systemic efforts without conflating the two. By remembering the spectrum, a company can then allocate resources, measure progress and define outcomes more effectively.

Read the full article about systems vs transactional impact by Jeffrey C. Burrell at Medium.