Project Everest

What is an impact assessment, and why are we doing it 2.0?

by
Jessica Stephanie Arvela
Jessica Stephanie Arvela | Jan 27, 2017 | in Ideas Box

While on Project during January in Timor-Leste, Ryan White and I (Jess) worked together to further guide teams in their assessment of Project impact. 


 


Intent


Project Everest aims to solve the world’s most complex development problems by building sustainable solutions known as ‘social enterprise’. Our work in country is entirely community based, thus inevitably there will be impact. The nature of our projects is to be socially beneficial products that help contribute to completing the respective UN Development Goal. As such, there is obvious positive impacts that can be measured throughout the life of a project. However, the intent of the impact assessment is to identify any potential negative impacts on the community so that they can be mitigated, ensuring maximum social benefit of the project, as well as increasing the avenues of positive impact from the project.


An example: the use of FarmEd’s online platform may lead to a majority of farmers generating the same crop due to an indication of ease or profitability from the app. This will lead to a drop in the market price of that crop due to over abundance. This is a negative impact that can be mitigated with actions to ensure pathways around this issue are created now, which is why during the each stage of the design thinking process the impact assessment is critical – not only in the later stages. You would discover this impact by using the tool ‘theory of change’, mapping out the entire user journey – you can follow alternate pathways where your product or service will ‘touch’ users and what that interaction may look like, doing so will release potential outcome such as the one used in this example. 


Another example: the introduction of a subscription for communities [water infrastructure project in Timor] to have the frequency of their water infrastructure repaired would leave the current member who is responsible for the village fund that manages those fixes obsolete [Group Maintenance Fund]. Involving that member in the solution would allow for the success of the business to go ahead without removing people from employment.


Process


The impact assessment is a constantly evolving process, not only will every project be different, but the way the impact is measured, the tools used, and impacts themselves will change continuously. A generalised process in both learning and applying the impact assessment revolves heavily around design thinking.


TL Understanding


Team Leaders must have a comprehensive understanding of the impact assessment and how to properly apply it in country for the assessment to be successful. This is due to the need to have each pathway assessed for harm as you move through the weeks. As such, there are key stages to be completed to ensure this understanding.


1.   Read the Impact Assessment Guide. This guide details the impact assessment, why it exists, how to apply it, tools available and guiding questions. Follow the links and do some of your own research.


2.  Complete the Theory of Change (ToC) design thinking exercise using a particular project as an example. This helps broaden the future leaders minds and understand how broad the scope of this assessment is. ToC also allows the leaders to understand that they are assessing the impact on the community, not the project.


3.  Understand the 4 key questions that are used as a guide for the assessment, and what each question requires. These questions are used to indicate that teams have incorporated the impact assessments at each stage and are fully aware that the operation of Project Everest has intended and unintended impact on the surrounding community.


a.     How will you measure your (positive and negative) impact in country?


b.    What impact assessment tool/s have you incorporated into your weekly task list?


c.  What social, economic, environmental or other influences are you measuring and how?


d.    What are teams implementing to mitigate negative impact?


By running through the requirements of these questions and explaining the process, leaders find that they are properly able to understand. It has shown that they require a verbal communication of the impact assessment rather than a template.


4.  Read the Detailed Impact Assessment Template. This template shows both the leaders and trekkers how the impact assessment should be written, what should be covered in each section and various examples to help with the process.


5.  Understand that an impact assessment is NOT:


·    a one-page template that needs to be filled out only once and then considered as a fundamental answer


·    or a final outcome,


·    only revisited when a major change occurs, or when the next project starts, like a risk assessment may be used.


An impact assessment is a feature of each week, and a consideration of each major action within the project. It’s a moving concept that you use as a consideration at every stage, in the same way you would use design thinking activities to broaden your understanding and develop new pathways, you would use an impact assessment to ensure the direction you have chosen does more ‘good’ than ‘harm’.


For example: hundreds of students over summer may use the local cafes and WIFI for working on project, meaning an overload on local cafes, an inconvenience for café owners and a negative perception of Project Everest despite the business – the constant and extensive presence creating more issues than the profit collected by the purchases made. 


If you sit and think about each action – in this instance, Trekkers going to the same café to use the WIFI, and try and think of all the ways in which that may be a negative for the community, you will then naturally plan other options to mitigate that negative element for the community. You may create a matrix to spread the location of Trekkers between multiple cafes and locations and communicate the ‘why’. You have then made an impact assessment and used a tool to mitigate the harm. It’s these very simple changes that are just considered, then actioned if required to ensure 1. no ‘harm' is experienced by the community, and as a result of those considerations 2. down the line, the projects will have more chance of success because every block has been imagined and mitigated. It’s about avoiding fighting fires and instead creating a path of least resistance. Impact assessment requires brainstorming and imagining the future and putting yourself in the shoes of people who come in contact with Project Everest.


Another example: assessment based projects that sit in the empathise and define phase can focus on the data they collect. Look at this inversely – what data you ARE NOT collecting, either intentionally or unintentionally. If you are going into certain villages to collect data, have you considered how you would obtain a range of socio-economic backgrounds, genders, ages, ethnicity, etc. You may find you bias the areas in your immediate vicinity, you may bias areas which have a higher literacy.


IMPORTANT: are you getting a 95% confident sample size of each? If you don’t know what this means – look at a sample size calculator such as: http://www.raosoft.com/samplesize.html or http://www.wolframalpha.com/ and complete your own research to understand why adhering to this methods [or similar] of data collection [or surveys] is critical to collecting accurate and reliable data, if you don’t have accurate data, you cannot use it to make safe assumptions, instead your assumptions will be unfounded, bias, or speculation.


Imagine you have a map, colour the areas you have approached people for data collection [surveys in this instance - which you should be able to do with the GPS coordinates you collect at each point as per required] within the community, then imagine inversing the coloured areas – you are now looking at what you HAVE NOT done. This means that your results may only be applicable to certain areas.


This doesn’t mean you must touch all areas, however it means you need to critically analyse what you do touch by recognising potential ‘features’ [including but not limited to: socio-economic backgrounds, genders, ages, ethnicity, etc.] then create a sample size with a high confidence rate for each ‘feature’ found, and ensure you collect the recommended number of surveys to be able to determine a safe assumption.


This means you won’t just walk outside and survey as many people as possible. It means you will plan your reach, to ensure each ‘feature’ [including but not limited to: socio-economic backgrounds, genders, ages, ethnicity, etc.] has had the appropriate number of surveys completed to be able to provide evidence to your assumptions [this is where you start discussing outcomes and defining the solution]. For example: the P4P team are collecting data in the district of Liquica, Timor-Leste, they looked at the population size then used a sample size calculator and entered a 95% confidence rate, with a 5% margin of error, and found they need 52 surveys to be able to ‘back’ the outcomes they draw from their surveys. 


In addition, look at what questions you are asking - such as leading questions – asking questions that assume the issue is not a genuine application of the empathise stage of the design thinking process. Instead of asking: ‘would you use an alternate source of domestic fuel’, ask: ‘what do you like/dislike most about the domestic fuel you currently use?’. It’s easy to say ‘yes, I’d use another fuel source’, but that affirmation is not a strong commitment, and buying that alternate fuel source is a strong commitment. Thus, if you endeavour to ensure the alternative fuel source includes all elements the community enjoys of their current fuel source, and you are able to eliminate all the elements the community does not like in their current fuel source – you will have a better chance of creating impact, community satisfaction and involvement, and venture success. 


What is important to realise is that assessing impact during the empathise and define stages is not necessarily what impact you are creating now as you move through collecting data [although there are considerations there too as aforementioned], but what impact can you imagine your current pathway towards a functional and profitable business could create. Imagine what future harm by following each venture/business/enterprise option through to completion in your mind to find negative touch points. You will point out simply what that harm may be, then write a brief suggestion at mitigating it. Very vague example: “This business action may lead to this specific person removed from their current employment, so future teams should incorporate this training and involvement, at this point, in the business model to ensure this is not the case.”


This is why it’s a lateral activity, it’s creative, and it requires team-work and brain storming – exactly as the design thinking activities do. Use the impact assessment in this manner and you’ll ensure a deeper understanding of the community, a more considered outcome, and a more successful venture.


Trekker Understanding


Trekkers will struggle to understand this and why they should be implementing it. Don’t make the assessment a chore like risk assessments, incorporate design thinking exercises, talk with passion while discussing it and highlight how important it is for social businesses to be conducting impact assessments. A series of steps that has proven to be successful for trekkers understanding the impact assessment:


1.  Begin with a presentation on the importance, purpose and outcome of the impact assessment. Draw information from both the Impact Assessment Guide, as well as the Detailed Template if required.


2.  Run through a very quick brainstorming session on what Trekkers think could be potential large-scale impacts as a result of their projects. This session is where you can squash any misconceptions about what the impact assessment requires. Any mentions of impact on the project rather than the community highlight the incorrectness. For example: wearing your Project Everest shirt while in the field, or collecting notes at meetings are not measures of impact on the community. If they are only thinking about the positive impacts, highlight how they should mainly be focusing on negative impact. Any impact they mention, ask how they would measure It on a quantitative basis.


3.  Get the Trekkers to then read the Impact Assessment Guide. This guide details the impact assessment, why it exists, how to apply it, tools available and guiding questions.


4.   Get 1-2 trekkers from each project to run through a Theory of Change (ToC) design thinking exercise using their project. This tool has proven to drastically increase the Trekkers understanding of the scope of this assessment and how they should be thinking. A description of how to run this exercise is available. It is possible to run this each week and have that form your impact assessment. ToC is a simple and board tool that will help form a foundation.


5.   Ensure that during the weekly goals the impact assessment is being incorporated. Not only to increase their understanding of the assessment but also because it is required in the document at the end of the month.  


Outcomes


Through proper completion of the impact assessment the teams will be able to mitigate any negative impacts and ensure that maximum positive impact is achieved. This needs to be a gradual process, with each team expanding and iterating on the previous months work.


Common Misconceptions


Regardless of the Design Thinking Stage, an impact assessment must be completed. Although there isn’t any product or service being implemented into the community, it is actually more important that an impact assessment is completed at the start of the project rather than the end as it is harder to iterate at that stage, harm may have already been caused due to a lack of awareness or thought.


1.    Impact on the community. Not impact on the project.


2.    The impact assessment should not be a chore, it should be treated as an exciting, thought provoking, and quick exercise to be completed throughout the weeks.


3.    Teams do not need to write a completely new impact assessment every month, they can expand and improve on the previous months.


4.    If you have questions, ask them.


5.    It is about impact/influence we are having now [ensuring reliable and varied data], but it’s largely about imagining what impact is possible then forming plan/shifting the business path to avoid it.


 

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edited on 27th January 2017, 13:01 by Jessica Stephanie Arvela
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