The First Step to Measure Impact


“Measure impact.” The mantra for 2014 is penetrating all industries—for profit, non-profit, and the emerging social enterprise—and is demanding to define and display outcomes in both qualitative and quantitative forms. Search for ‘measure impact’ on Google and you will be hit with an overwhelming 385,000,000 results.

As I wrote a few weeks ago here, measuring and sharing impact is crucial for design organizations with social, environmental, and economic goals—even if it’s hard to do. As SROI Network CEO Jeremy Nicholls wrote in this Guardian article as a rebuttal to social investment firm Panahpur CEO James Perry’s article,

Just because measuring social impact is hard to do, this doesn’t mean we should give up.

Social impact/humanitarian/public interest design is a complex industry where partnerships constantly cross over corporate, non-profit, and government boundaries. To be an agile and credible partner with these varied industries, designers have to step up to the plate and display the benefits of their work, which, at times, means quantifying and qualifying efforts.

Many design organizations have already begun to take on this task. The renowned MASS Design Group states their approach as “an impact driven model” where they “evaluate the quantitative and qualitative impacts of the design and construction process to prove the value of architecture in improving people’s lives.” The first evidence of this appears on the project pages along with the yearlong campaign “Beyond the Building” which extracts and tells stories from individual projects with the intent to highlight the human impact rippling throughout the community.

Product design non-profit D-Rev documents each product’s impact through quantitative and qualitative data, like 79% of recipients still use the ReMotion knee and 18,017 babies have been treated by Brilliance.



Cincinnati-based non-profit Design Impact produces a succinct Annual Report each year with project, financial, and program statistics.



In all three of these examples, documenting and publishing this data allows each organization to prove results to new and existing clients and partners, raise funding, and display their impact on issues that are at the heart of their organization. But how did they arrive at these outcomes?

For designers wanting to convey impact, it can be a daunting task, like blindly throwing darts at a board to see what sticks. We can see the results of what other groups are doing but how can you do this for your own efforts? How does this get implemented? Luckily, I’m working with a design group that wants to share the process of determining impact measurement.


The team at the months-old AzuKo—comprised of staff, trustees, and Ryder Architecture workgroup members—has embarked on defining impact from the outset. Over the course of nine workshops, we will be sharing the process of how AzuKo defines and measures impact to help guide your efforts.

Before diving into the depths of measurement, our first step was to begin with what we know and what has already been put into place. With a pile of yellow and green post-it notes and two enormous sheets of paper, we extracted the elements of AzuKo’s business plan into a business model canvas. If you aren’t familiar with the business model canvas, it’s one of my favorite tools. Created by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, the business model canvas—accompanied by The Business Model Generation handbook—has become the go-to tool for organizations across all sectors. The DIY Toolkit also has a great page with a video, instructions, and a variety of PDF sizes for printing.

With design being a highly visual industry, the canvas is a perfect format to see the relationships and components of an organization in one place. Think of it like a floor plan where each space has a purpose and connects or depends on adjacent spaces, which are then filled with people or things.


In two hours, we mapped out AzuKo’s partners, activities, costs, revenues, customers, and, most importantly, value proposition. This canvas is our most important document as we move through the next 8 workshops—a living document where each space will be changed, improved, and consolidated.


Why business model?

Being a registered charity in the UK, the business model canvas might not make sense for AzuKo at first glance. Why try to fit a charity into a business box? After reviewing a social enterprise canvas and a nonprofit canvas, I found that at the core each box had the same intent and only varied in nomenclature, such as “Social Value Proposition” rather than “Value Proposition” and “Co-Creators” rather than “Customer Segments.” Although we could argue about word choice and how the influence (which I have come to realize the importance after only a year of blogging), I found this wasn’t a startling difference to incite a change in format.

The main point in the exercise was that our team had an understanding of how the organization fundamentally operates based on basic terminology.

3 Recommendations to Run a Business Model Workshop

1. Always begin with an icebreaker activity

Before we jumped into the business model canvassing—which was a new activity for everyone except me—we started with an icebreaker exercise taken from +Acumen/’s Human-Centered Design course. Each participant answered these 6 questions in a roundtable discussion:

  • What is your name?
  • What is your role?
  • Why are you interested in this workshop?
  • What would you like to learn during this series of workshops?
  • What would you like to be doing in 5 years?
  • Tell a story about the last activity that you tried for the first time? Was it exciting or scary? How did being a novice help you?

AzuKo’s Director Jo Ashbridge summed it up with,

I would say, it is always difficult to get started with such exercises but once you’re in the flow of things it becomes much easier… the icebreakers help!

2. Use a medium that works for your organization

Team members from AzuKo’s partner organization, Ryder Architecture, are participating in the workshops from locations across the UK. Along with the robust high-tech virtual conference system, we are supplementing the paper canvas with a digital version on RealtimeBoard—a free resource that links to Google Drive (for Google doc nuts like me.)

3. Test, trial, and develop

Think of the canvas as a living, breathing document that reflects the intent of an organization over moments in time. As your organization develops, be sure to adapt and update the canvas at key points. As you’ll see with AzuKo’s canvas above, it is quite full with post-it notes overlapping and spilling over into other sections. We will be investigating and paring down each segment to arrive at the essential activities, partners, beneficiaries (customers), and value proposition that will make AzuKo thrive.

Now that you made it to the end, what is missing? What do you want to learn more about?

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