Project Everest

Why Bother Measuring Impact? (Pt.1)

Riley Harris
Riley Harris | Jun 11, 2017 | in Ideas Box

Put simply, if PE wants to make a positive social impact, then it should measure its social impact. PE Wants to help the lives of real people in the community, and this is a key way to ensure it’s doing so.

The trap that many charities fall into is that they neglect to check if their product or service is really making a difference, I could tell you that empirical studies of various aid interventions find that they are rarely very helpful, and many have negative effects. Or I could tell you that most experts can’t tell in advance which ones will be helpful or harmful, but it is easier to show this with a story:


The ‘PlayPump’ looks like a merry-go-round and is designed to be both play equipment for children in rural villages, and a water pump. The idea was ingenious, children can play and have fun while meeting the local water needs of a village. In 2000 PlayPumps won an esteemed award, for an “innovative, early-stage development projects that are scalable and/or replicable, while also having high potential for development impact.” Their campaign became more and more successful, American musician Jay-Z even raised money for them on his "Water of Life" tour. They were one of the most popular international aid charities in the world, receiving millions of dollars in donations.



Later, damning reports from the UN and others revealed that the PlayPump contained multiple flaws (McAskill, 2015, pp. 11-13). First, merry-go-rounds spin freely when spun, but the force necessary to spin a pump made it horrible for children, who are tired easily. Often the women of the village had to spin it, a task they found demeaning, and sometimes resulting in forced child labour. The pumps were inefficient, regular hand pumps took 1 hour rather than 5 to pump water. Thirdly, they often broke, and there was little to no hope of having them repaired quickly. Leaving the villages without water for months at a time.


Yes, we should still be excited about the potential PE has to change the lives of millions, and work towards bringing innovative solutions such as FarmEd to market. But along the way we should seriously consider the more difficult questions of whether our products or services are creating the positive change we hope they are.


Jessica Stephanie Arvela Jun 11, 2017

An excellent example of the importance of measuring impact, and in this instance, the negative impacts were not measured PRIOR to implementation. Which is frustratingly some students argument, that impact measurement is done post testing stage of the design thinking process rather than beginning at empathise. This example has limited relevance for social business as those who were offered it as a service or product to purchase would have declined the offer. However, it outlines with example what impacts a product may have on the user

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