The Impact Management Glossary

July 10, 2017

In early 2016, Social Value Canada and Social Value US had developed a list of roughly 150 terms, and had begun to develop definitions in collaboration with SVT Group and graduate students from the Hult International Business School.

In fall 2016 the American Evaluation Association, Social Value International and The Rockefeller Foundation convened Impact Convergence, where the participants reiterated a need for a Glossary to facilitate collaboration around impact investing and management. In 2017 The Impact Management Project provided funding to support development of the glossary to include among its suite of resources and contracted Social Value US to facilitate this work, with support from AEA volunteers among others.

Download a list of all the sources of definitions below.

The glossary is designed for:

  • Asset owners
  • Intermediaries, including managers and advisors
  • Frontline organizations, including businesses and charities
  • Those who evaluate social and environmental performance or impact
  • Policymakers
  • Academia
  • The interested public

The glossary is work in progress, we are continuing to improve it, and if you have any comments please let us know at glossary@socialvalueus.org.

Methodology

The protocol we used to determine which terms and definitions to include in the 2017 version of The Impact Management Glossary is as follows.

  1. We defined the purpose and scope of the Glossary

The purpose of the Glossary is to explain possible sources of and therefore to reduce confusion in the use of terms related to impact management. The Glossary is not designed to be a comprehensive set of terms used by different fields.

The first aspect of scope was inclusion of terms used by the fields of practice that come together in the course of impact investing, evaluation of social and environmental impacts and impact management, namely: accounting, evaluation, finance / impact investing, business / corporate social responsibility, economics, philanthropy, sustainable development and social enterprise.

The second aspect was terms that tend to be confusing when they do come up in this context. We defined four key characteristics:

  1. Terms that have common or near common definitions across the different practices (e.g., stakeholder, discount rate, portfolio, net present value).
  2. Terms that have different meanings within and / or across different practices (e.g., impact, reliability, control, materiality, metric).
  3. Terms that are only used in one or two areas of practice but have counterparts in other practice areas (e.g., base case/baseline/counterfactual).
  4. Terms that are specific to one or two areas but common within these and that do not have counterparts in other practice areas (e.g., impact first investor, logframe, greenfielding).

We have associated each of the different definitions primarily with a field of practice or profession (e.g., finance or evaluation), however, we recognize that in some cases the principle field may be debatable. We welcome your input on this categorization.

Email us: glossary@socialvalueus.org.

  1. Experts developed the list of terms

Social Value US then took this list and invited a group of advisors with deep domain expertise in the fields of practice to add to it and suggest sources for definitions. These experts include members of BSR, AEA, SVI and the Impact Management Project Partners.

Together we identified nearly 300 terms and about two dozen potential, authoritative sources for definitions.

III. We found the best definitions

Then the Social Value US working team populated the definitions, seeking ones that were most clear, pithy, and representative of their fields of practice. We included all suggested terms unless they:

fell outside the scope of the glossary

were proprietary, meaning coined and for the most part used by a particular firm or individual

and/​or were terms that appeared to be obscure or incorrect variations of other terms already included

The criteria we used for determining the “best” definitions were (in order of importance):

Accuracy. Some definitions are better than others. This requires knowing something about the subject and cannot always be assessed using the definition itself.

Completeness. Some definitions are specific to certain circumstances and uses. We want to take the definition with the most general definition.

Ease of Comprehension. Some are better written than others.

Conciseness. All other things being equal, the shorter the better.

We limited the number of definitions we included based on these parameters:

Select the definition that is pithiest and most representative of a particular field of practice

If there are no major differences between the definitions, go with the pithiest overall

If there are important differences between the definitions, note two (unless a third is absolutely warranted)

We found that 25 of the sources most frequently held the best definition, however, when there was a suspected use that wasn’t reflected in any of these authoritative sources, we found a source that confirms the suspected use, and logged this new source in the “Additional Sources” list. In all, the Glossary has 67 definition sources.

Alongside the terms themselves, Social Value US with input from the expert reviewers put together commentary for those terms where it was useful to elaborate on the word’s usage in practice.

  1. Experts peer reviewed the terms, definitions and commentary

Finally, wider partners were invited to review the terms, definitions, sources and commentary, and provide suggested improvements. Their input was integrated into the version of the Glossary launched in July 2017.

The glossary is work in progress, we are continuing to improve it, and if you have any comments please let us know at glossary@socialvalueus.org.