Positive impact: a framework to discuss, make and measure it

Koos
Emma Schalkers

Reading time
5 min read

Date
Nov 27, 2021

Positive impact is like teenage sex: everybody says they’re doing it, hardly anyone is actually doing it, and the ones who are doing it, don’t know what they are doing. 

This is the stage where many companies are in, saying things like impactful design, social impact, positive change and sustainable services, including ourselves. 

In order to get out of this awkward stage, we realized that we first needed to get a better idea of what positive impact actually is. First, we tried to learn from other pioneers and impact enthusiasts. However, none of the definitions or frameworks we came across felt quite right for us since none of them fit the type of work we (want to) do.

So we started to do what designers do best, we started to create something new.

Meet the target groups

As with every design challenge, we started off with the question: who are we designing for? Or in the context of this challenge, who are we making positive impact for?

As consultants, we by default strive to make a positive impact with our clients. Additionally, we are service and UX designers that are dedicated to user-centricity, so we also strive to make a positive impact for the end-users of our clients’ products and services. And last but not least, we strive for a world made better by design, so the world is our target group too. 

The client, the end-user and the world: three fundamentally different and very broad target groups. Let’s break things down even further. 

For example, does a positive impact for a client mean more money, or more skilled employees? Does positive impact on the end-user mean an effortless check-out flow, or a better work-life balance? Does positive impact on the world mean less CO2 emission, or a more equal society? 

We decided that it means all of those things and as a result, we created a framework that embraces our all-encompassing definition of positive impact.

As the framework suggests, our six target groups when making positive impact are:

  • the business of our clients; 
  • the employees of our clients;
  • our end-users in the short term;
  • our end-users in the long term;
  • planet earth; and 
  • our society as a whole.

Click the headers below to read about our definitions of each section.

To what extent has the client experienced economic benefits from our project? Think about financial improvements as well as improved value propositions and customer evaluations, etc.

E.g. target group expansion, markets expansion, costs saved, revenue generated, raised NPS/CSAT scores, improved customer ratings, partnerships created

To what extent have employees been able to grow while collaborating with us during the project? Think about gaining skills in User-centeredness and design thinking on a theoretical or practical level, reproducing methods and mindsets in the future, etc.

E.g. interviews conducted, research analysis participation, customer journey maps created, brainstorm session participation, design sprints completed, work efficiency, work happiness

To what extent do individual end-users enjoy using your service? Thinking about enhancing the experience of your service, creating moments of delight, reducing pain points, improving efficiency and effectiveness, improving happiness, etc.

E.g. easier decision-making processes, stressful moments reduced, time saved on unnecessary or redundant tasks, moments of excitement created

To what extent does this project contribute to the positive long-term change of individual end-users? Think about encouraging behaviour change, breaking bad habits or building healthy ones, contributing to intellectual, social or spiritual development, creating financial independence etc.

E.g. healthier diets encouraged, addictions beaten, new skills acquired, personal relationships built, jobs found, debts paid off, burn-outs healed or avoided

To what extent does this project contribute to sustainable growth of (practices around) our natural environment? Think about lowering CO2 emissions, lowering water usage, conserving ecosystems, cleaning waters, cleaning soil, enhancing biodiversity, decreasing waste, making clean energy accessible and affordable etc.

E.g. circular services, sustainable services, regenerative services, reused materials, recycled materials, upcycled products, natural products, non-toxic elements

To what extent does this project contribute to positive societal change? Think about increasing the health and happiness of society overall, decreasing discrimination, improving education, standing up for human rights, improving equal opportunities, advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion, reducing poverty, improving public transportation etc.

E.g. project deliverables that represent the variety of end-users, services that are understandable for non-native speakers, user friendly applications for people with disabilities, user friendly websites for elderly people

Upon creation, the framework has already helped us and our clients to become more aware of how we can make (more) positive impact. But in order to actually start doing it, we need to have the right tools as well. 

Tools, tools, tools

Based on the positive impact framework, we’ve created several tools to use before, during, and after a project. 

One of these tools is a kick-off tool to help us set goals together with our clients  at the beginning of a project. Another tool is a survey to help us make realistic estimations of our positive (and potentially negative) impact after a project has been completed. And last but not least, we are creating a tracking tool to help us and our clients measure the positive impact a project has made after it has been implemented in the real world.

Ultimately, these tools along with the positive impact framework help us make the world (measurably) better by design. 

Want to do this as well?

Curious how the framework might help you make more, measurable positive impact? Maybe our kick-off tool can help you set goals at the beginning of your next project. Or maybe our estimation and tracking tools can help you make and measure it. 

Just reach out if you could use a hand, we’re just a (zoom) call away!

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