Measuring the social impact of blogging

Professionally I do two things; I help organizations make high impact data-oriented decisions, and I write. As 2011 draws to a close, I reflect on another year helping a lot of great organizations increase their social impact, and a pile of blog posts that I hope help advance the social sector toward lasting change.

Obviously I believe writing, and the exchange of ideas that comes with it, is important to the growth of our sector and advancement of solutions. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t write anything. But as someone who prefers evidence to anecdotes, facts to feelings, I’m at a loss for much evidence that blogging (at least my blogging) helps move the needle even a little bit.

I feel like I get quite a bit more than I give in terms of writing. And maybe that is okay, so long as I believe writing helps me get better at what I do, and that what I do with my agency has social value.

But my ambition for writing and the promise of free-flows of information in the social sector exceed simply personal gratification and advancement. My hope is that by sharing with one another what works and what doesn’t, that we would improve our own services, turning those little insights into collective action.

While articles about changes in the poverty rate and misleading homeless counts are compelling reads for people like us, if that information exchange doesn’t improve the output of our efforts, then what are we doing? There are certainly times when I worry that the articles we write and share with one another have no value other than to amuse ourselves, like a gossip rag for poverty-geeks.

I hope I am wrong, and in 2012 I plan to actively seek evidence to the contrary. I want to believe that we are evolving into a sector that thrives on sharing best practices and possesses the sophistication to integrate information across the fields of politics, sociology, finance, social work, community development, and a slew of other focus areas that collectively sum to the vastness of the social sector.

Indeed, it is in the vastness of the social sector that I worry the value of our information exchange is lost. As you know, the social sector is complex. Its complexity in part stems from the fact that it is not so much a sector, but rather a sector of sectors (some call it the un-sector). The sector-of-sectors nature I fear lends itself to sharing information in parallel, rather than exchanging information that directly impacts what we do.

I, like you, picked this line of work to improve the lives of hurting people. When we read posts, share information, and write on our blogs, we are diverting our time away from our work. I hope, I think, this is a good use of our time. I think writing matters, and I hope in 2012 I can prove it to myself.