Re-Evaluating How and What We Value

This topic of measurement has occupied my mind for some time now. Measuring impact has quite a few complications. In order to make a point, I want look at an example that looks strictly at impact, leaving out factors of returns on investment, employment, or anything business related for that matter.

Consider this: How much impact does a parent have their young child’s life?

There is a tendency to first look at all the monetary benefits a child has because of their parents care. The child literally depends 100% on the parents “philanthropy.” The child eats, sleeps, learns, and lives because the parent provides for the child. The parent’s impact in this regard, regardless of the units of measurement, seems to be holistic. The standard of living, education, opportunities, and health of a child are critically dependent on the parents. But is this all the impact we care about?

Who is the child? What of the child’s character and relationships? How does the child perceive themselves? How do they feel they are perceived? Do they love? Are they happy?

Certainly, the parents also impact these portions of a child’s life. There doesn’t seem to be any quantifiable medium whereby we might be able to see the net growth of a child’s character, or return on investment for the thousandth compliment given to a child. People’s state of being just might not be quantifiable at all. And I’m OK with that.

The way I understand impact in the context of social innovation is that it signifies the net effect of an action on all individuals directly and indirectly affected. If this is right, I don’t think we can signify the impact on individuals numerically. We need our associations, storytelling, honest confessions of changed hearts, and all other “human” forms of measurement in order to understand the impact of our actions. This human form of measurement is subjective, difficult to gather, and even more difficult to trust at times. But consider this Radiolab podcast. Listen, especially, to the Vietnamese women’s story (about 30-40 minutes in).

What was the impact of the actions of others? Is it quantifiable by the amount or type of bombs dropped? The death toll even? No. What was impacted was far deeper than that. Something unmeasurable. It could not be adequately displayed in the form of numbers. You had to hear the crack in her voice. You had to witness her struggle to speak. You have to be human to understand.

When it comes to measuring things, we like numbers. Numbers are objective, and (for the most part) easily understood. But we might have to step out of our comfort zones and accept a more subjective and complicated system of measurement. We might have to start trusting our senses, emotions, and souls again.