Why My Big Jar of Honey is So Small – The What/Who/How Principles of Social Measurement: A Message from the Chair

By Dr. Wanda Lopuch, Ph.D., MDA Associates; Global Sourcing Council Chairperson

Why is my big jar of honey so small? My favorite philosopher and the measurement expert-in-residence Winnie-the-Pooh poses his existential question while patting his soft belly.

Why is our talent development program, which so dramatically improves opportunities for our employees and their families, gained so little acceptance? – a frustrated manager of an innovative program raises concern to her team.

In my January address in The Source, I submitted to the GSC community, that we make 2014 a year to bring evidence-based measurement to the center stage of social responsibility and global citizenship.  That way we can present strong evidence-based business cases for programs that empower communities, or programs that enhance quality of work of employees, or programs that foster innovation among vendors for socially responsible products and services.  We need to develop a measurement framework which will enable us to distinguish between good investment and questionable investment.  I have also argued for balanced score cards, or BSC-like tools for socially responsible initiatives, so as per Winnie-the-Pooh’s mantra we will know where we are going and if we are there yet.

Seemingly simple, yet so little progress has been made in implementing social measurement matrices into the core of business enterprises.  There are reasons for that: when it comes to measurement there are challenging questions to be addressed.  Let’s explore.

In the first week of February, I had an opportunity to participate in the UN General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWGonSGD).  Any goals come with accountability, and accountability does not exist without measurement.  Measurement of social processes was discussed at the UN OWGonSGD in great detail.  The principles of measurement are universal.  They apply equally to the UN monumental task of setting up Global Sustainable Development Goals for the 21st Century (we will learn more about this task in this edition of The Source), as to global sourcing professionals setting up balanced score cards for their network of global partners and suppliers, or to Winnie-the-Pooh’s measurement question of why is the big jar of honey so small?

During the February 5th UN OWSonSGD meeting,  Professor Gita Sen from DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) brilliantly outlined these universal measurement and accountability principles in a simple 3-question format: WHAT? WHO? and HOW?

  1. WHAT is being measured: evidence-based content.
  2. WHO measures: governance of measurement process.
  3. HOW it is measured: budget and resource allocations.

These seemingly simple questions bring the complexity of social measurement challenges into focus when they are tackled together.

        1.  WHAT – or the content, is the cornerstone of the accountability process. 

My measurement expert-in-residence Winnie-the-Pooh, needs to make decisions regarding WHAT he is to measure:  the size of the honey jar or the amount of honey in the jar, or perhaps the taste and smell of honey – a quality of labor of  Maya-the-Bee and other hard-working laborers. 

The manager of a regional vendor supply chain needs to make a decision if she wants to track the amount of product applications submitted by vendors or a type of a vendor, or the innovative features of submitted products, or perhaps suggested pricing.

The sourcing professional, evaluating performance of a potential partner needs to make a decision if he will track personnel absenteeism or turnover within a partner enterprise, or hourly wages, or level of education, or hours employees are spending on non-project related tasks, such as community work or enhancing education.

        2.  WHO – or the governance of the measurement process. 

I suspect that my measurement expert-in-residence Winnie-the-Pooh may insist on doing the measurement by himself, and using his big tummy as “an objective measurement stick” to measure either the size of the honey jar or the amount of honey in the jar.

A manager of a vendor supply chain needs to make a decision, what data is to be self-reported by vendors and what information she or he is to collect through  internal systems.   Both methods have different “trust levels” and costs associated with such data collection.  The decision regarding: WHO, is strongly connected to the third principle: HOW– or budget.

        3.  HOW – or budgetary allocations required to support accountability goals.

According to Prof. Gita Sen, if there is no budget allocated to support the measurement process, there is no true accountability for goals.  This strong statement resonated with the audience.  I am certain that it also resonates with those who are responsible for the balanced score cards and who understand that setting goals may be half of the battle. Getting a realistic picture of the baseline and progression of the goals, however, takes real time and real resources. Which in budget terms translates into money.

Adopting measurement-based frameworks, such as WHAT/WHO/HOW,  to evaluate the social impact of business enterprises is a natural next step in implementing evidence-based decision-making systems that will enhance business processes in commercial, academia and non-profit enterprises alike.  It will even bring closure to the dilemma of my measurement expert-in-residence: why the big jar of honey is so small.

Implementing such frameworks is neither easy nor straightforward.  But, the progress takes place.  To contribute to that, we encourage you to share your experiences regarding the WHAT, WHO and HOW parts of the equation of measuring social impact.  Contribute your insight with other community members so we can share knowledge, learn from one another and build our skills in implementing measurement based programs.  Please submit your comments to editor@gscouncil.org, we will share your views with the community.

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