New Cross-Sector Glossary

February 19, 2018

How many times have you had a conversation with someone on a project and you eventually realized that your definitions of key words or concepts were different from your colleague’s, and it mattered…a lot!?!

Quite a few discussions at the Impact Convergence (Imp-Con) conference in Atlanta in 2016 hit on this issue of language, where, for instance, “your version of assessment and my version of assessment are different because we come from different disciplines”. These "aha" moments, launched a discussion around the need to develop a resource that would cross–walk definitions in use by different disciplines in the impact management and measurement spaces and provide insight into the etymology and common uses of such terms. A “glossary” of sorts was already being developed by a Social Value Canada and Social Value US group and this became a more formal idea after Imp-Con. Helped by financial and technical support from the Impact Management Project, and under the superb leadership of David Pritchard, members of Social Value US developed the Impact Management Glossary (IMG) and it was launched in June 2017. It is hoped that this tool will improve understanding of terms used by different disciplines related to impact management.

The IMG currently covers approximately 325 terms in common usage related to impact measurement in disciplines working in this space. Input into the first iteration came from accounting, evaluation, finance/impact investing, business/corporate social responsibility, economics, philanthropy, sustainable development, and social enterprise. Detailed information on the genesis and history of the IMG can be found here.

One important thing to note is that the glossary is not intended to be a comprehensive repository of terms used in any one discipline, or to replace discipline specific glossaries. There are many great resources out there that are applicable to specific disciplines (e.g., Kylie Hutchinsons’s evaluation glossary, IRIS’s GIIN glossary), and even those like Sinzer’s cross-discipline indicators matrix that crosses the sustainable development goals with IRIS’s metrics and the GRI standards. The IMG is the product of a collaborative attempt to clarify the similarities and differences in language usage among a number of disciplines that often interact yet may not be understanding each other due to these differences.

In case you are not convinced of the value of the glossary, consider the example of one term with different meanings, namely “accountability”. In accounting this means:

“The responsibility of either an individual or department to perform a specific function in accounting. An auditor reviewing a company’s financial statement is responsible and legally liable for any misstatements or instances of fraud.”

In evaluation, the same term means:

 “The obligation to demonstrate that work has been conducted in compliance with agreed rules and standards or to report fairly and accurately on performance results vis a vis mandated roles and/or plans.”

While related, the definitions are distinct, and it is easy to see how two people from different disciplines might be in a meeting and talking about accountability yet misunderstand what the other means. In this scenario, the IMG could be useful tool.

I have offered to be the editor of this resource and oversee its near-term future and I am in the process of setting up an editorial advisory board to help ensure its effectiveness and usefulness. I am looking for volunteers to join me. Ideally, the editorial advisory board will include a variety of folks from the evaluation world as well as from the world of accounting, the world of finance, and the world of CSR and/or social enterprise so that we can hear from different perspectives what kinds of terms they run into in practice and find confusing. Hence the group should include evaluation experts, a few with MBAs, a few with finance and/or accounting degrees, and a few people with no advanced degree. Ideally a mix of global south and north. These are not all mutually exclusive of course. I am open to recommendations of people or groups that should be represented.

We invite you to take a look at the glossary and provide feedback on terms that you think are missing or where definitions could be improved. The next phase of the glossary will include an editorial advisory board. If you are interested in becoming involved, we would be happy to hear from you. For feedback or to get involved, please contact us through the glossary.