Creating a new generation of data to solve social problems.
Providing people in need with access to critical services is easy to quantify: How many students did we provide access to tutoring? How many women gained access to business classes? How many homeless people were able to access a shelter?
But access alone isn’t always a social outcome. More often than not, it’s a piece of an outcome—a step on the way to some higher-value social change we’re trying to influence. Those tutoring lessons aren’t the end goal—it’s getting those students college-ready and job-ready. If the lessons don’t do that, then all the access in the world won’t impact the change we seek.
At Mission Measurement, we call the chain of interim outcomes that produce high-value social change the Success Equation (as in, A + B + C = D). In some cases, access is your “big D”, but many times it’s on the left side of the equation, an interim outcome that builds toward something of higher-value.
When I worked for Dress for Success, most people I talked to thought our mission was to give disadvantaged women access to clothing for interviews. While providing access to professional clothing is critical to the work of the organization, its true social impact is helping disadvantaged women gain and keep employment in order to achieve economic independence. Access to clothing, training, and other resources is an important part of reaching higher-value outcomes, which include: improving interview readiness; increasing the incidence and quality of job offers; driving job retention and advancement; and ultimately, achieving economic independence.
Without the greater social impact, providing access to clothing would simply be a nice thing to do.
Most often it’s a matter of calibration, where providing access to help is an important step in a chain of outcomes, leading to the ultimate impact. Take, for example, the practice many domestic violence shelters have of providing access to a domestic violence help hotline number via a basket of lipsticks or nail files left in public bathrooms. Providing safe and secret access to a support hotline is a first step toward helping a woman out of an abusive relationship and has value on its own. The higher value outcome, however, is creating a safe and independent life free from abuse.
The next time access comes up in your work, interrupt the typical pattern of thinking by using these three questions:
The above questions serve to help focus your strategy, mission and impact around the highest-value outcomes you can reasonably achieve. Regardless of whether access is a high-value outcome itself or one piece of a higher-value outcome, it’s critical we know what role its playing in our Success Equations. It’s the difference between simply “doing good” and actually solving social problems.