Positive Impact: how to recognise and measure it

Can we generate a positive impact through our activities and projects?

How can we measure this impact?

And who are the actors who will profit from this?

We hear about it on a regular basis and as an expression it can be misused: unfortunately, there are many companies that misinterpret its meaning, misleading (sometimes unintentionally) both the public and their stakeholders.

On the other hand, adhering to the canons of sustainability implies becoming producers of positive impact through our daily activities and actions.

Understanding what positive impact entails is essential not only to understand the consequences of what we do but also to prevent any negative effects at the source and bring about continuous improvement.

First of all, it is necessary to talk about the relativity of this concept: positive impact cannot be defined in absolute terms as it is a subject that must be declined according to the sector and type of activity and refined by referring to the actors receiving the impact.

An action able to have a positive impact on my business may have a negative one on that of my neighbour or on another located kilometres away: this is the main reason why it is necessary to estimate the impact before the action that generates it is performed.

While searching for a definition of positive impact that I could propose during my lectures and seminars, I found myself studying the meaning of the individual terms: ‘impact’ and ‘positive’.

Depending on the context, an impact may correspond to an action, an aggression or a shock; it may generate a metamorphosis or a change.

It is important to consider that it is not only physical or mechanical actions that generate an impact as this can be linked to an action of influence.

By analogy, we can use the (assonant) term ‘influencer’, which designates a popular figure capable of influencing public opinion on a defined topic. Indeed, the communication actions of an influencer can produce a positive or negative impact on his or her audience depending on the context, the influencer’s intentions/preparation, the content proposed, and the method used to communicate it.

In the case of the proposed example, the impact is not generated by physical contact but from a transmission of information.

Therefore, how can we know whether the impact we produce is positive or not?

The term ‘positive‘ refers to something that is certain, concrete, rational, takes reality into account and is of practical use. Positive is that which has a value greater than zero, which is constructive, which produces a favourable result, which constitutes a stage within a progression.

When we talk about positive impact, we are therefore talking about the combination of several elements: positive impact results from an action that is able to produce a change for the better with respect to the initial situation.

A positive impact is capable of producing a realistic, useful and practical result, with favourable consequences for the actors receiving the impact.

One step forward would be to start by asking ourselves questions about the identity of the actors receiving the impact, the consequences this entails and the extent of these consequences.

It is important to bear in mind that consequences can be positive or negative as well as voluntary or involuntary: we cannot always foresee what the consequences of our actions will be and the outcome does not always correspond to what was expected.

Responsibility for an impact can be partial, as there are positive and negative situations that are generated by a combination of different factors. Therefore, the responsibility for an impact can also be attributed to a combination of actions performed by different actors; they then share responsibility for the positive or negative consequences of the impact.

The differentiating element concerning activities that embrace the themes of Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility concerns the combination of ‘positive impact + respect for the rights of those involved‘. Sustainability refers to a set of regulations and guidelines that drive actors to produce positive impact, while respecting the rights of the stakeholders involved.

To achieve a positive impact and to be able to measure it, it is necessary to set SMART objectives, an acronym that can be translated into: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. Without a precise definition of objectives, measuring impact may prove difficult or even impossible.

These objectives must be based on positive and shared values, aimed at achieving a good that transcends the mere profit of the company.

It is also necessary to take into account all that is ‘the other’, i.e. to be able to identify the stakeholders who will be impacted and consult them in advance to get their opinion.

Finally, we need to define a measurement scale for the positivity of the impact and make an estimate of what the negative impacts might be, so that preventive and corrective actions can be predicted and implemented.

It is important to remember that an impact (positive or negative) may occur at a later date than the implementation of the action. Knowing how to estimate and manage the risk associated with each action can be useful in order to prevent negative consequences even in the long term.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that it is not only companies that can generate an impact on their stakeholders: the inverse, an impact of stakeholders on the company, is a possible event and its effects must be foreseen, considered and analysed carefully.

Please feel free to send us your comments and questions on this topic to info@theslowcorner.com

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