Impact Framework for HoloWisdom Network Maps

Theories of Change, Assets, Outcomes, & Indicators

What’s an Impact Framework?
Why is Understanding Impact Important?
HoloWisdom Impact Framework & Definitions
Key Sources
Social Value
Social Impact
Collective Impact

What’s an Impact Framework?

This impact framework being co-developed for the TRCC StoryMap project and ally network maps defines Impact using terms synthesized from key sources. It creates common ground for our exploration of WHY we do WHAT we do for WHO and HOW we know it works. Please comment with your thoughts & favorite sources!  

Impact is the effect that leaders have on the people and places they serve.  Three popular views are:

  • Social Value – the value that people place on the changes they experience in their lives
  • Social Impact – A significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge
  • Collective Impact – a powerful new approach to cross-sector collaboration that is achieving measurable effects on major social issues

All these views value cross-sector multidisciplinary approaches. For example, here are top takeaways about Collective Impact from FSG’s summary of their pioneering Stanford Social Innovation Review article:

  1. There are many examples of coordinated cross-sector collective impact efforts…that have succeeded when other individual efforts have failed.
  2. Successful collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions that together produce alignment and lead to powerful results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.
  3. The social sector has not yet changed its funding practices to enable the shift to collective impact. Funders must be willing to invest sufficient resources in the facilitation, coordination, and measurement required for organizations to work together in this way.

Large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations…

Why is Understanding Impact Important?

The more we can identify the change we want to see and the activities to get there, the more effective we are.

What are we trying to cause? What do we want more of and less of? What will it take to get there?

This sounds simple, but it’s not! Many of us are used to thinking in terms of things that we want to change, but without really identifying clearly what that change looks like and how to get there. Let’s explore a systemic Theory-to-Indicators impact framework for network mapping purposes.

HoloWisdom Impact Framework & Definitions

Organization’s Theory of Change -> Input/Activity -> Asset/Output -> Stakeholder’s Change/Outcomes with Indicators

Impact starts with the Theory of Change WHY behind our work, which drives our activities, which creates our assets (programs, tools, etc) which are our output. That output leads to change or outcomes in our stakeholder communities, which we can measure using indicators. All these terms are defined in more detail below.

Often what we call impact is really the output of our work, not the final outcome of how it affects the lives of the stakeholders in our communities. Our output matters! It certainly causes change and can be considered an intermediate outcome, but it’s not the whole story until we involve our stakeholders.   Impact = Org. Asset Output (or intermediate outcomes) & Stakeholder Outcomes


From Understand What Changes pp 5&6:

Change = Outcomes: changes of value that people and groups experience in their lives
Inputs: resources, financial and in kind, that are necessary for the delivery of the activity.
Outputs: a quantitative summary of an activity. It is important not to confuse outputs with outcomes.
Outcomes: changes that stakeholders experience as a result of the activity:  circumstance, behavior, capacity, awareness, and attitude.

Theory of Change  

A Theory of Change is the WHY behind what you do and how you do it. WHY will what you’re doing create what you want? It’s your beliefs, values, and assumptions that drive your output to create desired outcomes. It’s the process of how relationships between things influence change.  For example, United Planet’s theory is: defines theory of change as “a planning tool which sets out an aspirational pathway for an organization to achieve its intended objectives. It does this by starting with the ‘intended end goals and working back to identify the required outcomes and enablers /conditions that need to be in place for the goals to occur.” (

Formal theories look like maps, flowcharts, or tables with specific outcome indicators tracing back to the original beliefs. They connect or map outcomes back to why you believe the outcomes will happen.  There are software programs that do this! Here’s a simple tool from Development Impact & You.

A logic model is similar to (and often confused with) a theory of change. Logic models also look like maps, flowcharts, or tables, but they tend to show just activities and how they relate to outcomes. Theories of Change link outcomes and activities to explain HOW and WHY the desired change is expected to come about. Tools4Dev nicely draws and describes the state of confusion between theories and logic frameworks HERE.  

In my view, many concepts called theories of change aren’t formal theories of change OR logic models because they don’t explicitly define outcomes. A network mapping goal is to help connect our theories to outcomes in a way that’s useful to us.

Recommended Resources

Find the Why TED talk by Simon Sinek

An asset is a useful or valuable thing, person, or quality. The Asset-Based Community Development Institute defines community assets as individuals, associations, institutions, physical space, exchange, and culture/stories/history. They say we go much farther together focussing on the assets instead of the needs and deficiencies of people and communities.

For network maps, an asset is something that an organization creates: a tool, resource, something you convene, teach, do or build. Examples of ongoing public TRCC member assets are:

  • Gatherings eg. Bioneers, Permaculture Convergence, Revival
  • Regional & national hubs for local networks eg. Bloom, NEGEF, TransitionUS, Climate Justice Alliance
  • Stories, classes & workshops eg. Transformative PolicyMakers, New
  • Communications outreach (eg email list size) & knowledge hubs eg.,
  • Economic programs eg. Boston Ujima, Coop Richmond, Rooted in Resilience
  • Action campaigns eg. Community Resilience Challenge, Permaculture Action Network

Indicators are quantitative measures of change.

Indicators can take a number of forms. We tend to think of them as being subjective (self­ reports), objective (tangible changes), or third party reports. However, the distinction between these kinds of indicators is never clear­cut (Understand What Changes p 6)

Don’t get hung up about “quantitative” measurable results. Today measuring often include subjective experiential “qualitative” results too.  The UN no longer distinguishes between qualitative and quantitative indicators; qualitative indicators are just the percentage of a population that experiences the change.
Since we’re working on transformative root-cause social change that may take decades if not generations, identifying long-term results and stages can get very complicated and overwhelming. For example (see Change Frameworks HERE),  the UN has 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 232 indicators that have taken hundreds of people years to agree on! The Rockefeller Foundation funded a large research effort analyzing 45 different frameworks to create a City Resilience Index set of indicators. Local/regional leaders can amp up our impact by investing the level of impact thinking that makes sense for us, leveraging the more rigorous impact analysis at larger scales. What key SDG indicators are useful for us? Let’s find out!

Key Sources

Social Value

From – thanks to Ben Brownell for the referral!

Social value is the quantification of the relative importance that people place on the changes they experience in their lives. An account of social value is a story about the changes experienced by people. It includes qualitative, quantitative and comparative information, and also includes environmental changes in relation to how they affect people’s lives.

Who Changes (Stakeholders)?   
How do they Change?
How do you know?  

By impact we mean creating changes in people’s lives. You could be already running a social enterprise or on the way to setting one up. The key to this approach is ‘Impact Thinking’ and at its heart this means involving and being accountable to stakeholders, primarily those that the social enterprise aims to support. (Maximise Your Impact p 8)

Recommended Reading: Understand What Changes especially pp 5 & 6
Maximise Your Impact – great tho’ dense read – haven’t digested yet

The Principles of Social Value:

  1. Involve stakeholders – Inform what gets measured and how this is measured and valued in an account of social value by involving stakeholders.
  2. Understand what changes Articulate how change is created and evaluate this through evidence gathered, recognising positive and negative changes as well as those that are intended & unintended.
  3. Value the things that matter – Making decisions about allocating resources between different options needs to recognise the values of stakeholders. Value refers to the relative importance of different outcomes. It is informed by stakeholders’ preferences.
  4. Only include what is material – Determine what information & evidence must be included in accounts to give a true & fair picture, so that stakeholders can draw reasonable conclusions about impact.
  5. Do not over-claim – Only claim the value that activities are responsible for creating.
  6. Be transparent – Demonstrate the basis on which the analysis may be considered accurate and honest, and show that it will be reported to and discussed with stakeholders.
  7. Verify the result – Ensure appropriate independent assurance.

Social Impact

From Center for Social Impact – U of Michigan
Social Impact – A significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge

pressing social challenge… A healthy debate about what is pressing today is welcome and necessary as societal conditions invariably shift. Local contexts might differ from each other, perhaps mirroring global needs or occasionally running counter to them. But a level of consensus is required, often based on ensuring a foundation of human dignity and opportunity, which is most pressing for underserved populations and those lacking essential resources or services.

significant, positive change… social progress demands deep, structural movement of the status quo. Tackling symptoms of problems or trifling around the edges remains insufficient. Moreover, the phrase “social impact” is increasingly en vogue and often misused to imply even minimalist change. For us to have a potent and persuasive term, we must demand that social impact stands for a significant shift in society.

Social Impact Challenge

Social “I”s & “E”s

  • Social Entrepreneur: individual
  • Social Enterprise: structure
  • Social Innovation: novelty/process
  • Social Impact: results

…we are focused broadly on cross-sector and multidisciplinary efforts to deliver social impact.

From Measuring and Improving Social Impacts (book) Epstein & Yuthas

1. What will you invest?
2. What problem will you address?
3. What steps will you take?
4. How will you measure success?
5. How can you increase impact?

From Interview with Epstein in Forbes March 2014

Epstein: All organizations, large and small, should devote a few hours with their senior management team brainstorming about goals and activities and then developing a clear logic model that carefully defines their inputs (resources and constraints), processes (organizational activities), outputs (results), outcomes (intermediate effects), and impacts (progress on social issue).

NOTE that for Epstein, outcome is an intermediate effect, which is different than social value uk’s definition of outcome as impact. At this stage of the StoryMap project, we’re including outputs and intermediate effects as part of the impact of making progress on social issues.

Collective Impact

Collective impact is the latest language for making a major social difference, together.  For me, collective impact represents a paradigm shift from traditional strategic planning to systems thinking. Systems thinking sees the connections between things, not just the things: the relationships that get results. The term was pioneered by a 2011 FSG article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) article HERE.

SSIR has since published many more reports about collective impact.  It is increasingly recognized that collective impact is emergent and thus unpredictable, like any complex adaptive system. The unpredictable behavior of many players determines what happens, not the best-laid plans of anyone.

Under conditions of complexity, predetermined solutions can neither be reliably ascertained nor implemented. Instead, the rules of interaction that govern collective impact lead to changes in… behavior that create an ongoing progression of alignment, discovery, learning, and emergence… Existing organizations find new ways of working together that produce better outcomes. Leaders of successful collective impact initiatives have come to recognize and accept this continual unfolding of newly identified opportunities…, along with the setbacks that inevitably accompany any process of trial and error, as the powerful but unpredictable way that collective impact works. (Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity)

Recommended Resources (so far – yours?)

Collective Impact Forum Shared Resources
Defining Quality Collective Impact (SSIR) (5  minutes)
Tamarack Institute