Community engagement platforms can increase civic participation, improve trust between residents and governments, and can help collect data that increases the impact of your projects. When you optimize the way you use social impact data, there’s a real opportunity to assess a project’s performance and outcomes, improve future processes, and run more efficient and ethical projects.

So what is social impact, and what should you be measuring?

Social impact is the effect of an activity on a community, usually aimed at creating positive change by improving outcomes and systems. Undeniably, Civic Tech has the opportunity to create social impact in communities around the world. It can make it easier to find vaccines, identify new areas for community solar panels, and create safer streets around schools. But to know how effective these projects were, whether they should be replicated, and how they can be improved, we need to measure their social impact and traditional vanity metrics often don’t suffice. This begs the question – how can we maximize the insights we collect to amplify impact, and how do we move from measuring everything to measuring what truly matters?

Here are some ways you can maximize impact:

1. Impact goals can’t live in silos

Consider multiple impact streams. It may seem obvious, but it’s key to realize that impact cannot mean the same thing for every city, project, or platform. When establishing your goals, consider not just the aim for your specific project, but for the process as a whole. For instance, if you’re running an engagement platform aimed at a school district’s participatory budgeting process, your main focus is likely on the impact the budget allocations will have. Consider which other impact outcomes your project can have, such as increased participation from youth, and how this can influence the way you run future engagement projects, such as by offering digital alternatives to participation in other city-run initiatives.

2. Data collection can be more transparent

When collecting data from your community, always ask yourself: “do I have everything I need, and do I need everything I have?” It can be tempting to grab as much data as you can via your platform, but you should avoid collecting data that isn’t necessary to achieve results or impact. Aside from ethical arguments for limited data collection, requesting a lot of personal information combined with unclear intentions may result in a high drop-off percentage in participation, and it can deter your impact-driven focus.

3. Impact-driven data insights are intentional

When you have too much data to make sense of, you may lose focus on what you’re really trying to achieve and measure. Measuring civic engagement is about much more than measuring clicks. If we only rely on quantitative metrics, we may fail to capture the “civic” in Civic Tech. Civic tech creates social impact, so consider what would be most meaningful to measure – did your project make it easier to find services, engage with the government, or make community members feel like their voice matters? It’s often easiest to measure these changes if you have a baseline to measure against, so consider which previous surveys your community has provided this information on or run a new one with a few short questions to understand these shifts.

4.You can focus both on quantity and quality

Quantitative metrics, sometimes referred to as visible impact, can refer to the number of participants, votes, or visits. While these numbers can be good indicators of a project’s immediate success, on their own they’re not very telling of the long-term impact. Try to incorporate the interaction on your platform: who participated, and how? It’s important to combine metrics and include qualitative data as well, sometimes referred to as invisible impact, which looks at outcomes that can be harder to measure, such as if there has been an increase in participation from one area of your city or from a specific demographic group, how long people stayed engaged, or whether trust in government increased compared to the levels at the start of your project.

When we put social impact at the forefront of how we measure success, data collection becomes more intentional and opportunities for improvement are more easily identified. Before you launch your next project, consider: what visible and invisible impact do you want to achieve with this effort?

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