Definition and Relation.

Community and systems change initiatives typically encompass a myriad of strategies, interventions and activities. The changes sought through these initiatives are intended to produce a sizeable and lasting impact in the lives of people and the communities in which they live. This kind of scalable and substantial effort often requires us to look at meaningful outcomes from a vantage point that goes beyond changes among individuals.

As foundations, nonprofits and other social impact organizations define specific impact outcomes, there are usually a range of positive changes that are hoped for and believed to be instrumental in achieving impact outcomes. These interim outcomes typically occur in tandem and, along with the ultimate impact outcomes, are important to name and to measure as evidence of progress towards impact.

The Influence, Leverage and Learning outcomes are important in service of achieving Impact outcomes. As with advocacy evaluation, an overly narrow focus on long-term, broad-scale impact outcomes within complex system-change efforts may overlook the significant contributions of important enabling factors that are relevant indicators of progress on the road toward the ultimate goal.

Impact is the type of outcome most commonly thought of. Impact relates to changes in the lives of individuals and among populations in a specific community, geographic area or ecosystem. Impact outcomes can be changes in attitudes, knowledge, behavior, skills, perceptions, beliefs, practices, relationships or conditions. Examples of outcomes can be changes in political attitudes, changes in personal aspirations, improved parenting skills, decreased risky behaviors, improved health status, greater educational attainment, greater economic stability, and more.

Influence reflects a wide range of systems-level changes that may happen among or within organizations, institutions, networks, partnerships, policies, practices or community norms. These changes relate to organizational practices, degree of alignment across groups and organizations, public will, political will, public policies, business practices, and so on. Examples are adoption of new policies on health care, community goals are shared and prioritized among many groups and organizations, greater availability of community services in key neighborhoods, more efficient delivery of services, decreased community tolerance of violence, changes in philanthropic practices, changes in levels of corporate engagement in social impact, and more.

Leverage refers to changes in the commitment of resources. In some cases, leverage outcomes may relate to changes in the levels of funding to implement a policy or mandate. It may also mean allocation of non-monetary resources, such as staffing dedicated to a particular issue or service or in-kind resources. Examples are pooled funding to implement a partnership between private businesses and post-secondary institutions, aligned funding across many foundations to support nuclear security issues, contribution of staff time towards a particular cause, and more.

Learning is about field-building and advancing knowledge which, the framework posits, is a critical part of any endeavor seeking to advance social impact. While learning can inform the specifics of a particular initiative, learning can also be a way to cross-fertilize across initiatives. Learning helps lift up insights or knowledge, which can then be applied broadly to guide and shape decisions about the choice of practices, the combination of practices, the implementation of practices, and so on. Examples of learning outcomes can be greater knowledge about high quality instructional leadership or improved processes for sharing strategic lessons gained from practices.

How Do Impact, Influence, Leverage, and Learning relate to each other?

Importantly, there is a hierarchy here; Impact is at the heart of accountability; it is the “prize” that everyone keeps their eyes on. Influence, leverage and learning occur in service of impact. That said, it might at times be relevant to prioritize influence and leverage outcomes in order to hasten or deepen impact and learning. Influence and leverage may, at times, follow impact – for example, when circumstances (social, financial, community norms, political forces, etc.) are shifting and there is a desire to maintain hard-fought social gains.

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