I had the honor of facilitating a session on metrics at last week's Social Capital Markets conference. I also had the duty of apologizing for the name of the session, which was Metastasizing Metrics. I didn't name it, I just moderated it.
I've done a lot of moderating. This session called for every trick in the book. We had five incredible panelists (Kevin Starr, Mulago Foundation; Brad Presner, Acumen Fund; Margot Brandenburg, Rockefeller Foundation and IRIS; Laura Callanan, McKinsey & Co.; Steve Wright, SalesForce.com Foundation), each of whom has spent years working on their piece of this complicated puzzle. So of course, in typical panel fashion, we were going to ask them to describe their work in 2 minutes or less. And then we were going to take questions from the 100+ people who'd come to learn about their work, try to get good discussions going, highlight the very important tensions in this work, and point people to more information. All in 60 minutes. Ready. Go.*
So that is what we did. Here are two independent reviews of the session - one from Stephanie McAuliffe of the Packard Foundation and the other from Jack Samuelson of GIIN. (If you know of other reviews posted on the web please link to them in the comments. Thanks.)
My thoughts on all this:
- The panel represented measuring efforts from several vantage points - a single foundation (Mulago), a portfolio of projects (Acumen, Pulse), social investors' reporting needs (IRIS), across a sector (McKinsey's database) and within a context that might allow benchmarking (SalesForce.com and others). How these pieces could or will or won't fit together something we didn't get to really talk about.
- Two inquiries from the room - one about the current state of starvation of established enterprises and another from a new entrepreneur reflecting the abstract terror that the metrics discussion was fomenting in him - were really important, and no real discussion of how they relate to each other or the full range of panel expertise was possible.
- What is the "gold standard" in evaluation? Is there such a thing? An impassioned disagreement about random control trials got started in Room 370 of Fort Mason, but we didn't have the chance to hear from more than 2 people in the room and certainly didn't push the state of understanding on this issue much further.
- I do, in fact, think metrics are the carbon of the social impact ecosystem and that the policy environment is the oxygen. We better get the balance right. Thanks to all who picked up on this new metaphor I've been trying out.
*If it is not obvious from my tone, I think this whole panel structure thing is a particularly ineffective way to learn and find it amazing that we - collectively - just keep falling back to it. Then again, I don't organize conferences, I just attend, speak, and moderate at them.