don't be a half wit

opportunity collaborationUsing Both Sides of The Brain to Understand Social Impact:  Don’t Be a Half-Wit

Metrics!  Stories! These are two of the favorite and most-hated buzzwords of the moment in philanthropy and social impact investing. Metric-heads insist on quantitative measures that “prove” an initiative’s ROI, while Story-huggers opine that numbers can’t ever convey the value of lives transformed. Who’s right? How about neither one!

What if we have to use both sides of our brains to understand impact? In fact, could it even be essential to do so? Will one type of assessment alone always fail to generate accurate knowledge? Science suggests that we use a great deal more intuition in our decisionmaking than we may want to admit. Do all of us quant-jocks need to embrace our inner campfire? Yet we also know how a well-told tale about a naked emperor – or, say, cups of tea in Afghanistan – can lead us down the garden path. Do all of us irrational-exuberants need to embrace our inner Alan Greenspan?

Please lend your voice to a hearty discussion of social impact assessment! How can we know that philanthropic initiatives and social investments are making a difference? What tools and methods are actually useful and valid? Let’s explore veteran grantmaker and evaluator Ruth Brousseau’s call for a “philanthropocentric” style of understanding impact – one that eschews research models imported from hard science or business, and enables inquiry that factors human capacity and complexity IN, rather than out.

Rather than just cheer for your side, let us know about specific assessments you have found useful and why, or specific examples of how evidence meant to be compelling was not. What kind of information speaks to both hearts and minds? Both the right and left brain? Both Jonathan Lewis and Dean Karlan?

Here’s some additional food for thought for interested readers and writers:


Right brain? Left brain? Don’t be a half-wit and join Melanie Moore, a former ethnographer who currently runs See Change, in the conversation.