Introducing the Impact Genome Project
April 10, 2014 | 5128 views
Building off the advance series collection of articles written by delegates and speakers of this year's Skoll World Forum, this section will feature live blogs and pieces from the event in Oxford. We will be covering a wide variety of sessions, panels and discussions on-site. View the live-stream on the homepage, and watch here for real-time articles all week! -- Each year at the Skoll World Forum, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information. Learn more about the 2014 Skoll World Forum, sign up to our newsletter to be notified of the live stream, view the 2014 delegate roster and discover what themes and ideas we'll be covering this year at the event. Also, read about the seven recipients of this year's Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
The Skoll World Forum offers a unique opportunity to meet with the world’s leading social entrepreneurs and share the most innovative approaches for creating social change. We’re excited to be here this week to lead a session focused on how we can use “big data” to efficiently solve the world’s most pressing social problems through a revolutionary effort called the Impact Genome Project.™
The Impact Genome employs a systematic process to crack the code on social impact just as the Human Genome Project enabled us to improve health outcomes and the Music Genome Project™ enabled Pandora to classify music so that listeners could discover new music they’d enjoy.
These are just two of the numerous examples of complex industries that have codified their data and reaped the benefits of those efforts—gaining more efficient access to critical information, enabling comparison of seemingly diverse entities, and better representing how systems do work in order to predict how they will work in future. Following the lead of some of these great efforts, we are applying a similar approach, using benchmarking and predictive analytics to transform the social sector.
The work began with an ambitious research effort that sought to make sense of myriad social programs all aspiring to achieve seemingly different goals. In this process, we studied more than 5,800 social programs and documented more than 78,000 outcome data points. Our team of researchers attacked the daunting task of systematically cataloguing those outcomes—removing duplicates, standardizing language, creating hierarchies, and developing a universal taxonomy. Unsurprisingly, we found that many of the outcomes were the same, though described differently.
We ultimately identified 132 common outcomes across the entire social sector. We then indexed these outcomes by program type and sub-type, and classified them into a functional taxonomy that we named the Universal Outcomes Taxonomy. This Universal Outcomes Taxonomy allows any social impact program to be measured by its contribution to an outcome – a critical capability that served as the foundation for the development of the Impact Genome Project.
Just as the Universal Outcomes Taxonomy organizes outcomes, the fundamental idea behind the Impact Genome Project is that every social program can be fully codified by assessing its critical characteristics. This measurement approach quantifies important information from a program’s operation, theory of change, metrics, indicators, and outcome potential. By mapping all of these factors and comparing success across programs, we can then calculate key metrics including efficacy rate (the projected likelihood that a given program beneficiary will achieve a particular outcome), expected outcomes (the total number of people served by a program that are projected to achieve a particular outcome, and cost per outcome (the average expected cost for a program to produce a single ‘unit’ of impact). This data enables informed decision making, helping funders to benchmark program performance against sector averages and invest with confidence in the programs that are most likely to produce desired outcomes. As you can imagine, this will greatly reduce waste, both in time and money.
One example of how the Impact Genome works in practice is an analysis of social impact programs focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). While STEM program approaches vary, the programs themselves can be compared based on their contribution to the outcome of developing a person’s ability to understand and apply STEM- related knowledge (or in our Universal Outcomes Taxonomy the outcome: “Develop Knowledge and Skills for Individuals”). So, we can use the Impact Genome to evaluate a new STEM program, leveraging a robust evidence base to predict the program’s effectiveness with confidence. Moreover, we can benchmark each social program’s cost per outcome against the performance of its peers on that metric to identify which social investments are most valuable. Graphing how various social programs targeting a universal outcome perform on key metrics helps us to understand the overall progress we are making to tackle big social issues. See these example STEM Benchmark charts for an illustration of the analysis described above.
We are eager to be at Skoll with other leaders in the social sector. And we are optimistic that working together, we can establish a literal social capital market, where social outcomes can be bought and sold. We think this project is a critical step in enabling all funders, from governments to foundations to nonprofits to corporations to individuals, to more effectively invest in social change and to finally solve many of the world’s most pressing social issues. It’s a big job, but it’s doable. Won’t you join us?