Impact measurement practice in the UK third sector: a review of emerging evidence

Working paper 106  - August 2013

Impact measurement has become an increasingly important activity for third sector organisations in recent years. Yet impact – and how to measure it – remain contested issues in policy, research and practice.

This paper reviews emerging evidence about how the UK third sector is measuring its performance and impact. It highlights key challenges for the sector, including variations in the quality of both measurement practice and tools, uneven access to support, and the cost and skills needed for robust evaluation.

Research on impact measurement is at an early stage, and has tended to be boosterist in nature. Nevertheless this review reveals a growing concern that requirements and demands for impact data from third sector funders are taking precedence over the requirements and needs of beneficiaries and service users. In this context, approaches which focus on organisational learning are being developed from within the third sector.

The review examines five key questions: how is impact and its measurement understood in existing research, policy and practice? what do we know about who is undertaking impact measurement in the sector? why are organisations measuring their impact? what practices and approaches organisations are using to measure impact? and key challenges and implications of impact measurement for the sector.

Research contact
Dr Jenny Harlock