The measurement of social impact has become a widely shared objective within the social sector, and few people in the sector doubt the potential of impact data to transform their work. Yet among nonprofit groups, social enterprises, and other social-purpose organizations, the use of impact data remains surprisingly limited.

In 2014, I led a yearlong research effort that sought to make sense of this discrepancy. CoMetrics and the F. B. Heron Foundation commissioned the study, which focused on...

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