5 things we learnt from our experience using the Impact Management Project (IMP)
What long-term positive changes are my activities generating and how could they be maximized? This is a question that many organizations in the development and impact investing fields are asking themselves. And in their efforts towards measuring and managing their impact, they can easily get lost among the many different tools and methodologies.
One of them, which is gaining a lot of momentum lately, is the Impact Management Project Methodology or IMP, which aims at providing a standard for impact measurement and management (IMM). It is the result of a consensus among impact investing actors. Since 2016, it has brought together over 2 000 practitioners to agree on shared norms for IMM.
This year Stone Soup Consulting implemented the Impact Management Project for the first time. We’ve been working with Oxfam Intermón Spain on its program called “Enterprises that change lives”, a venture philanthropy initiative that incubates small enterprises in West Africa and Latin America countries. It aims at improving the living conditions of entrepreneurs, their families, employees and communities, with a strong gender focus. We evaluated two social enterprises in Bolivia and Paraguay -both were exiting the program after 5 years of technical assistance- based on the IMP.
What is the IMP about?
The IMP defines 5 ‘impact dimensions’ or aspects that you should look at when evaluating the impact generated by your intervention: what changes have been generated through the program? Who has experienced these changes? How deep do they go? What has been the specific contribution of your program to these changes? And finally, what risks could limit your impact?
Based on our first hands-on experience using the IMP, here’s what we’ve learned:
- The IMP can be used by a wide range of organisations
Although the IMP may have been designed mainly by impact investors, it can also be used by NGOs. At Stone Soup we’ve used it to evaluate the impact of the incubator program of an NGO, but any organisation (impact funds, companies, foundations) wanting to contribute positively to society can use it to evaluate its own activities. This is actually the point: that everybody starts measuring impact using the same standard. And because of that, everything is open-source and available on-line.
- It fits for several purposes
Impact management is an ongoing process of learning and improving. The IMP has been built on that idea and can be used at different stages of a specific program. We’ve used it to review and update the Theory of Change of the ‘Enterprises that change lives’ program, and to design a scoring system to help Oxfam Intermóm monitor its portfolio better. Others use it to map their portfolios and classify them into different ‘impact categories’. Also, the French-Canadian rating agency Impak used it to develop an impact rating methodology. In other words, the IMP is quite a versatile tool.
- It is more a framework than a standard
From our experience, the 5 impact dimensions of the IMP listed above are guidelines on how to measure and report your impact. Those 5 dimensions are broken down into 15 ‘categories of impact’ that provide further details for your analysis. For example, the ‘how much’ dimension has 3 ‘impact categories’: the scale (how many people experience the change), the depth (the degree of change they are experiencing) and the duration (the time period for which they experience the change). Those guidelines can be used as a “‘check-list” to make sure you’ve taken into account all the aspects of the impact you’re generating and they allow you to have a 360 degrees vision. This does not mean that you need to tick all the boxes and fill in all the documents and formats available online. Rather than that, you can use the IMP as a framework to gain depth in your impact analysis.
- The focus on stakeholders
We found the ‘Who’ category very interesting, especially for a program like ‘Enterprises that change lives’ that involves many different stakeholders, from entrepreneurs, employees, women, small-scale producers, community members, etc. Actually, screening the wide range of stakeholders of the program was our first step implementing the IMP, and the starting point to updating the Theory of Change. And evaluating one indicator from the point of view of several stakeholders strongly enriches your impact analysis because each one has its own perspective. The level of autonomy of a business at the end of the incubation phase to access a loan for instance, or to conduct its daily financial and administrative activities may be assessed differently by the organization running the program, the business itself, its employees and its commercial partners.
- How to evaluate your impact risks?
The ‘risk’ category of the IMP was definitely our biggest challenge. Evaluating impact risks is probably very new for many organisations but it’s actually very useful to identify the several risks that may limit the impact you’re wishing to generate. The IMP provides several risks ‘categories’ – 9 in total, between internal and external risks- to help you classify your risks. However, it does not provide a methodology for risk management. The identification of impact risks is something you should ideally carry before starting your intervention and monitor throughout the project.
We hope this helps to illustrate what the IMP is about and how you can use it to improve your impact measurement and management efforts. As mentioned, the IMP standard is open-source and there’s a lot of information online: https://impactmanagementproject.com.
And if you’re curious to know more about our first hands-on experience on the IMP with Oxfam, please join us on November 24th for a free webinar we’ll be hosting! In this webinar, we will also share experience about the International Finance Corporation (IFC) operating principles for impact management with the consultancy Better Way and the Impact Investor STOA.