Where do you collect information for a social impact concern?
Plastic pollution, unemployment, and other social impact concerns get to have very simple solutions on the surface level. It’s quite easy to look at such problems and say, “Stop using plastic” or “Match people with jobs.” Simple solutions are a nice start, then of course it’s time to look at a fuller picture of the concern. Surface-level observations don’t give us the details of what happens to an issue inside a community or system. This is a rare occasion where “Google it” falls short.
One thing we know about social entrepreneurship is that concerns hold multiple sides. In fact, solving a social impact concern means getting familiar with the ecosystem the issue lives in. You may want to learn more about a social impact concern and be able to use the insights to build a better solution or MVP (minimal viable product).
Gathering Information for Social Impact
The list below gives you different approaches to consider when gathering information for social impact, and you can tailor what you need to your experience. We’ll start with the most obvious choice so we can get it out the way. Feel free to do whichever options work better for where you’re at in your journey and your resource access.
1. Stakeholders: People who are part of the ecosystem of a concern.
The stakeholders you may think of speaking with include the ones who deal with the concern directly, the ones who support the systems attached to it (*this assumes there is no active corruption taking place and no one in the system purposely withholds or alters information), and the ones who are already doing work on the concern (if applicable).
Example concern: Unemployment
Ones who deal with it directly: People experiencing unemployment or involuntary work gaps, Family members, Managers
Ones who support the systems attached to it: People involved with the Human Resources Department, Department of Labor, Temp Agencies
Ones who are already doing work on the concern: Unemployment Assistance programs
Speaking with stakeholders is a good chance to find out if there’s a way to partner with organizations or advocates in the community. You also can explore talking to different levels, such as asking what an issue looks like as told by someone who is entry-level versus how someone in a leadership position describes the issue.
2. Your Team: People who work on your team, have more understanding about the mission of the initiative, and interact with stakeholders.
Team discussions are natural, but have you thought to ask the team about what they come across as they work?
You are not everywhere at once, but you do have a team that’s dispersed and has different interactions than you do. Consider asking your team what topics come up in their casual conversations with stakeholders or if they heard/ noticed anything while working. This is more so about the feedbacks and observations from the relationship they may have personally built with stakeholders.
For this, it seems better to encourage feedback related to themes and patterns, instead of specifics. This helps keep private matters confidential and maintains trust between your team and stakeholders (which is an entirely different topic honestly). It also helps you to organize how you collect and present your team’s learnings. It’s something that can be more actionable and apply to the community overall.
Option A: Alex and Addison argue about finances more often these days since Addison got laid off. After 4 months of arguments, they talked about breaking up. (specific situation)
Option B: Despite trying to work through the unexpected shift, spouses consider parting ways under emotional stress related to the financial stress of unemployment. (situation + underlying theme)
Option A could make for a useful point in a case study if Alex and Addison agree/ volunteer to disclose their information. Otherwise, Option B points out the theme/ pattern of the issue and contains information you can add to the fuller picture.
3. Social Media: Any social media platform your stakeholders have access to and use actively.
With all the years of humanity on this planet, one thing that’s still the same is that people share their lives through creativity. Social media gives you a more casual lens on what it’s like for stakeholders to engage the concern.
Some questions to start you off could be:
Are there illustrations/ graphics related to the concern? Are there memes related to the issue? Is there a viral trend related to the topic?
On top of getting a peek into the world of stakeholders, you also get to ask them directly for their opinions and experiences. You can do a poll, host a live session, or ask people to leave comments. You can go as far as to create a personal hashtag for stakeholders to use or ask them to tag your initiative in their posts while you gather information.
4. Books, Research Papers, Journalism Sources: Content from formal resources that can also include places they are found, like archives.
Formal content is still part of the world, and could possibly be an underrated resource (granted, the person writing this for you is also a writer, but that somewhat supports the point we’re getting at here).
The wonderful thing about formal content is that most of the information is already organized. Someone else did research, collected data, or even interviewed first-hand witnesses to curate this piece of information that you can leverage.
Like this blog you’re reading for instance.
Blogs can be formal or less formal depending on the site. This mainly comes from the fact that companies and organizations have blogs, but individuals can also have personal/ lifestyle blogs that you find useful information on. Either way, they have their place in the ecosystem of information.
5. Creative Works: Poetry, films, artwork and other creative works, including events.
This section is a combination of points 3 and 4.
Throughout generations, we had stories like To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee and 1984 by George Orwell to comment on social concerns in a way that delivered real-life observations, experiences, and commentary in a creative form.
Be curious about what the community is producing. Has anyone in the community created a short film? Written a fictional book? Maybe hosted a dinner party to discuss the topic?
Such creative works or events allow you to engage with stakeholders and their perspectives in the way they want to deliver their thoughts. Exposing ourselves to a wide set of narratives is why access to resources like diverse books is important.
Why Validate the Understanding of a Concern?
Long story short, it’s important to understand a concern to properly solve it. We spoke a bit about this topic in an example for a post on presenting a more effective pitch:
“If the barrier to the problem was easier, the problem would be gone. Therefore, the issue is not simply the problem itself. The issue is the problem and the perceived (or actual) barriers keeping the problem from being addressed.
Let’s use an everyday example that could happen to anyone. You find a new app that you want to download on your phone, but it gives you a notification that you need to update your phone software first. You go to update the phone’s software, but you get another notification that you need to do the update over WiFi, which you don’t have connection to in that moment.
If you could connect to WiFi, you could easily update your phone software and download the app. Your problem is that you can’t download the app. However, the issue (barrier) is that you don’t have access to WiFi. Ironically, your solution is to get access to WiFi. The solution is more connected to the barrier than it is to the problem.”
The above illustrates that we must understand the problem as the problem leads to the barrier, and the barrier informs why we choose a certain approach for the solution.
Since we arrived at the topic, here may be a good time to make a note on judging information…
Be careful with judging “if you need” certain information too early on. Certain information can only be tied together once you see the entire story. Likewise, sometimes there is information you get that seems insignificant in the moment, but is valuable later on.
It’s like the detective stories where a seemingly random object turns out to be the evidence that cracks the case, or in an adventure film where a childhood lullaby holds instructions to find a family heirloom.
Will you need to refine what information you use? Most likely. Try not to do that prematurely before you even know what you’re working with.
We use information to determine the next step. The input of the information we gather can alter the output of the solutions we pursue. Information gives you multiple things, such as:
- Blind spots
- Patterns (when information/ feedback/ descriptions overlap)
- New paths / ideas
Set your initiative on a useful path with information you can trust and information that helps paint a fuller picture of the concern. That fuller picture validates your understanding of the concern, and that understanding could possibly inspire a solution.