ON:SUBJECT | Wiebke Herding


Articles for change

Levels of impact

Here at ON:SUBJECT, we love to work with people who are trying to change the world. Like you!

They are working really hard. But the problems are enormous and the change they want to see is so big that it’s not easy to see whether their actions are making a difference. You might recognize this.

That can be an issue if you want others to support you – and keep your own motivation high.

One thing that helps is to better understand the outcomes and impact you want to see.

Three levels of impact from tangible to meaningful

I like to differentiate three levels of impact:

  • Outputs refer to the activities you are doing: What are the main steps that you are taking? These items should be fully within your control. It’s usually a good idea to group your outputs so that you can maintain an overview.
  • Outcomes refer to the effects of your activities: How are others reacting to your activities? What are the intermediate steps towards your final goal? These often need the engagement of others and are sometimes dependent on external events.
  • Impact refers to the change you want to see in the world: What has changed in our society, our economy, our environment if you are successful in your task? This can be aspirational, is usually long-term and definitely outside your control.
Four levels of outcomes from transactional to transformative

When thinking about outcomes, you can differentiate four different levels:

  • Reach is probably the simplest: How many people in your target audience did you reach through your activities? An example would be newsletter subscribers, advertising reach or event participants.
  • Awareness is often easy to grasp, but hard to measure: What are people in your target audience thinking about your issue? Are they aware of it? Has their opinion changed as a result of your actions? Surveys can be one tool to assess this – and so are conversations.
  • Behaviour is where we can start to observe change: What are people in your target audience doing about your issue? What are they changing as a result of your actions? This can range from supporting a petition to starting a local group, from talking about it publicly to proposing a new policy.
  • Systems describe enabling conditions for your final impact: Why hasn’t the desired change happened yet? What are the barriers to progress that need to be tackled? Think about policies, governance structures, monitoring processes or infrastructure here.

When describing your desired outcomes, focus on a clear description and a shared understanding first. Be as specific as possible: Who needs to change their behaviour and how? What does that enable?

In a second step, you can then ask: How do we know we’re on the right path? What observable changes could we track?

This way, you are slowly building a story of how change might happen. Sharing that story invites others into the picture, and together, change becomes possible.

At ON:SUBJECT, we work with mission-based organizations that want to create momentum for sustainability. Need help figuring out how to increase your impact? Let us know.

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Wiebke Herding

Facilitation and process design for a changing world. Mission: momentum for sustainability. Managing Director @ONSUBJECT. she/they.

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