What is impact practice?

Inspiring Impact created our cycle of good impact practice to define what impact practice is and articulate a clear path to success. We’ve compiled a handy jargon buster, too

Impact practice is what an organisation does to plan, understand, communicate, and improve its impact.

This follows a four-step cycle:

  • Plan: Plan how to create the desired impact
  • Do: Measure your performance against key goals
  • Assess: Make sense of the data you collect
  • Review: Communicate the results, and learn how to improve your work

Jargon buster: Words to help you navigate impact practice

People often tell us they come across different definitions, confusing explanations, and contradictory advice relating to impact practice. Our jargon buster clarifies the most commonly used terms, so you can be in the know as you navigate your way through The cycle of good impact practice.

Jargon buster
Activities The actions, tasks and work a project or organisation carries out to create its outputs and outcomes, and achieve its aims. Can also be called processes or interventions.
Attribution An assessment of how much change was caused by people, projects and organisations, and how much by whom.
Baseline Information about the situation that a project or organisation is trying to change, showing what it is like before it intervenes.
Benchmark A standard of achievement that an organisation or project (or others like it) has already achieved, which they can compare current achievement to or use to set a target.
Counterfactual/ Deadweight An assessment of how much change would have happened for beneficiaries without your work.
Evaluation Using information from monitoring and elsewhere to judge the performance of an organisation or project.
Feedback What users think of activities, products or services. For example, the location, opening hours or how helpful workers are.
Hard outcomes Outcomes that are objective, clear and obvious. For example involving an observable change in people’s behaviour or circumstances (e.g. securing a job).
Indicator Well-defined information which shows whether or not something is happening.
Intermediate (or interim) outcomes Shorter-term changes that happen as steps on the way to other outcomes and impact. They can be thought of as changes in knowledge / attitudes or behaviours that might contribute to longer-term impact.
Impact Longer-term effects of a project or organisation’s work that people achieve for themselves. This can include effects on people who are direct users of a project or organisation’s work, effects on those who are not direct users, or effects on a wider field such as government policy.
Impact practice What an organisation does to understand and improve its impact. This can include planning desired impact, planning how to measure it, collecting information about it, making sense of that information, communicating it and learning from it.
Logic model A simpler version of a theory of change that lists activities, outcomes and impact.
Mechanism The process through which your activities and outcomes will cause the outcomes and impact you want to see. Can also be thought of as how people will experience your work and how that experience will encourage or spark them to make changes.
Monitoring / routine data collection The information your organisation collects routinely through delivering your services - for example application forms, registers, client management systems.
Overall aim or goal Describes why the organisation exists and the broad effect it wants to have. It summarises the difference that an organisation wants to make.
Outcomes The changes, benefits, learning or other effects that result from what the project or organisation makes, offers or provides.
Outputs Products, services or facilities that result from an organisation’s or project’s activities. For example, workshops, leaflets, case work sessions or a brokerage service.
Pilot A way of testing out the effectiveness of a new system by applying it to a small group and getting feedback on the process.
Self-evaluation When an organisation uses its internal expertise to carry out its own evaluation.
Shared measurement Shared measurement involves organisations working on similar issues, and towards similar goals, reaching a common understanding of what to measure, and collaboratively developing the tools to do so.
Soft outcomes Outcomes that are less easy to observe or measure, or which involve some form of change inside people, such as a change in attitude or a change in the way they see themselves.
Social Return on Investment (SROI) Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a framework for understanding, measuring and managing outcomes and impacts. It is based on involving stakeholders in determining the relevant outcomes and puts financial values on the significant changes identified by stakeholders.
Stakeholders The people or groups who have an interest in the activities of an organisation. This can include staff, volunteers, users, customers, suppliers, trustees, funders, commissioners, donors, purchasers, investors, supporters or members.
Targets A defined level of achievement which a project or organisation sets itself to achieve in a specific period of time.
Target group The precise characteristics of the people you aim to reach and influence.
Theory of change A process for thinking about an organisation or project’s ‘story,’ logically linking target group, activities, outcomes and impact. It encourages people to consider how change happens in the short, medium and long term to achieve the intended impact. Theory of change is often associated with some sort of visual map, but could also be set out as a set of tables or charts.

*These definitions were agreed by the Jargonbuster group – an informal partnership of voluntary sector organisations, funders, government departments and regulatory bodies.

Save the jargon buster for later

Keep our list of definitions to hand as you navigate your way through the cycle of good impact practice.

Already know the terms?

If you’re confident with the language, use our practical step-by-step guidance to plan your impact measurement, do your data collection, assess the findings, and review your work.

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