It took me a while (work, grad school, life, and other readings are generally taking up my time), but I am happy to say that I finished reading Mario Morino’s A Leap of Reason. Reading the book has truly brought me much happiness – I learned a whole lot, and I also was able to make connections with other people who read and appreciated the book (shout out to @ReachInc, whose founder was gracious enough to speak with me last week – stay tuned for my first interview post with video coming soon!).
My rating: Five out of five
Where we last left off: Morino has introduced managing-to-outcomes, emphasized that organizations must adopt a performance-management culture, provided examples of positive steps taken by existing mission-driven organizations to take on some form of impact assessment, and made suggestions for how managing-to-outcomes could become a standardized, large-scale, adaptable (and adoptable) norm in the social sector.
In the next section of the book – Ideas Into Action – Morino starts with something of a disclaimer. He let’s us know what organizations need to have in place before they can even hope to manage to outcomes: “an engaged board; leadership with conviction; clarity of purpose; and a supportive performance culture.” I think without arguing this point with Morino, I can say that this does not mean organizations should not try to set up some kind of impact assessment if they are not at this point. Only that for the extreme cultural shift that will make impact assessment a successful part of an organization’s DNA, these conditions must be in place.
Next, Morino asks a series of “questions to guide you” that seem to me like the backbone of not just a framework but a process of impact assessment – something that can be built into a standardized yet adaptable tool for nonprofits to use. My favorite groups of questions are under section headers Clarity of Purpose (“Do you make time to revisit and refine your purpose and strategies, with input from those your serve, on a regular basis?”), Logic Model (“Can you state clearly the outcomes you are trying to achieve for your intended beneficiaries through each program and service your organization offers?”), Disposition to Use Data (“Does your organization systematically collect and use information, however basic, to guide your programmatic and operational decisions and execution?”), and Metrics and Indicators (“Can you define the few leading indicators that help you determine if you are doing the right things to eventually achieve the outcomes you intend for those you serve?”). All of these questions can be adapted to become directives, with tips and examples of how to implement them for any organization.
**Morino makes a strong point here so I will repeat verbatim: “PLEASE don’t make the cardinal sin of “information design” – basing the definition of metrics on what you know is available rather than on what you need!”
Morino goes on to outline a “Managing-To-Outcomes Practice,” which is again a set of questions, here specifically about the “Performance-Management Mindset and System.” I understand that the practice of measurement and assessment is actually “performed” by staff members of an organization, and that this “performance” should be managed. In fact, I think Morino is simply expanding on how organizations can best develop and maintain a culture that supports impact assessment. As Morino stated earlier in the book, there isn’t really a standardized system of impact assessment. But I would like to adapt Morino’s words to suggest that an “Impact-Management Mindset and System” is what could combine performance management and impact assessment into one organizational cultural objective. Impact-Management should encapsulate performance-management, since Morino makes clear that the latter is necessary for any organization to be successful with impact assessment. Maybe Impact-Management and Managing-To-Outcomes are actually one in the same, but I’ll toot my own horn here and say I prefer my wording, because I prefer the word impact to the word outcomes (assuming they have the same denotation). A quick google search for Impact Management brought me to The Aspen Institute’s website, where they present a definition of Social Impact Management, a practice, they write, that is “at the intersection of business needs and wider societal concerns that reflects the complex interdependency between these two realities.” Basically, how businesses can manage their outcomes (social, financial, environmental, etc.) with the needs of society in mind alongside the needs of their shareholders and customers.
I think there are some major connections to be made here between Morino’s book and for-profit’s trying to be more socially responsible, as well as some knowledge-sharing across private and public sectors that could lead to new innovations in the field of social impact assessment. Leap of Reason finishes off with essays related to managing-to-outcomes from people in the field that have tons of great tidbits. The author of one notes that nonprofits need to “translate the wonky world of data into the language of mission” as a way to get buy-in for performance management – I like that, even though I’d change the ending to “buy-in for Impact-Management.” These essays are all gems, and I suggest a read through for all of them.
So, my final review of the book is that it is fantastic, and I agree with Geoffrey Canada – A must-read for nonprofit leaders. I’d like to start a conversation with the author about the potential differences and similarities between performance-management and impact-management, and between outcomes and impact. Would Managing-to-Impact look very different to managing-to-outcomes?
Thank you to Mario Morino and Venture Philanthropy Partners for this amazing addition to the literature on Social Impact Assessment!