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Numbers can be misleading. Simple is the best.

While many agree on the use of numbers to measure social impact, there are a few troublesome issues among participants.

First, numbers are used to measure outputs rather than outcomes. For example, when we input more resources to perform more activities, the output always increases but the increase in outcome is limited. Such money invested may be put into inefficient use. Therefore, we suggest adopting the unit cost approach to distinguish whether the money is well spent, and to ensure the cost of activities is maintained at a reasonable level.

Second, a rising output does not necessarily indicate quality change. For instance, the number of elderlies served in a project may not truly reflect the changes in the quality of life of the beneficiaries. This is why we propose using a simple model of Level 1 to 3, which measures changes in terms of affective dimension (L1), knowledge, skills, attitude (L2), and behavior (L3). With such a model in hand quality changes in beneficiaries may truly be reflected.

The Level 1-3 model does not preclude the use of other models that aim to measure changes in a wider scope, such as ripple effects in the family due to change in the quality of living of the elderly, or a community and societal level, etc. However, we believe a simple model, more than often, is the best model.

Last but not the least, wrong choices of numbers can be disastrous as we are inclined to believe in numbers and tend to ignore other descriptive measures of the projects. For practitioners or project owners, we should not hesitate to include other qualitative measures, e.g. a story, to present the project’s social impact in a more complete manner.

If you wish to learn more about the Level 1 to 3 measurements, please watch our video or read the materials at

Chief Instructor and Financial Analyst

Ted Kwan

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