Evaluating the Impact of Convening Series: Part IV: Understanding Your Intended Impact

One of the main questions that sparked the conversation about measuring the impact of convenings was, “is convening the highest impact way for us to be spending our time and money?”  This is a difficult question to grapple with as there are so many avenues for how an organization, especially well-resourced Foundations like Skoll, Rockefeller, Hewlett, Obama, and Gates can use to achieve their desired impact including grantmaking, technical assistance, and policy advocacy.  
Recently, Conveners.org, Skoll Foundation, and TCC Group engaged leading conveners in the impact ecosystem to discuss the evaluation of convenings.  The engagement included leading conveners in the impact ecosystem including Concordia, Gates Foundation, Intentional Media, Obama Foundation, Opportunity Collaboration, Rockefeller Foundation, Social Venture Circle, and Synergos.  The event surfaced a lot of ideas and insights, which are being captured in this blog series.   Our first and second blog posts in this series have laid the foundation for what to evaluate.  Our third post focused on how we measure what convenings can achieve. This next article looks at when and why convening is the correct tool to address your intended impact.  
Know your intended impact
One of the greatest insights from the conversation is that it starts with an organization being clear on what the intended outcome and impact is that they are trying to achieve.  Convening is one tool that can be deployed to help achieve that impact, but it has to be used at the right time, with the right audience, and utilize experience design frameworks that can actually achieve that outcome.
One of the most thoughtful and foundational resources on convening design is Gather: The Art and Science of Effective Convening produced by Rockefeller Foundation and the Monitor Institute.  In this resource, you can find a number of worksheets and guides to help you narrow in on the purpose of convening.  However, the purpose from that perspective differs from understanding the intended impact.


Image Credit: Gather The Art & Science of Effective Convening

When evaluating the impact of convening one framework you can use to identify your intended impact is the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  There are three ways that a convening can utilize the UN SDG framework to organize it’s intended impact:

  1. Have a single SDG as the core focus for your convening year after year 
  2. Each year (or for a period of 2-3 years) select a new SDG as the core focus for your convening like the Mavericks Impact events or the Klosters Forum.
  3. Intentionally create a cross SDG convening space with tracks or sessions that engage across the SDGs (though if this is your focus, then it is possible that SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals is actually your core focus.

Once you have the UN SDG framework identified you may find that you can track the impact of your convening by tracking the impact metrics for the particular SDGs on which you focused.
Another framework for understanding your intended impact is to look at the outcomes you seek to create for your participants.  Some of these outcomes may include:

    1. Financial Impact – like the Skoll World Forum or SOCAP, are you seeking to connect participants in a way that will drive financial transactions (including grants, client relationships, or investments)
    2. Human Capital ImpactObama Foundation is looking to significantly increase and improve social relationships during their convenings.  In this case, the desired impact is in developing networks of civic leaders in different cities, countries, or continents so they can learn from each other, collaborate, and feel part of a movement. 
      • Fostering Collaboration– Partnerships for the goals is one of the most critical enabling elements to achieve the rest of the UN SDGs.  As a result our participants identified a core impact around catalyzing cross-sector or multi-stakeholder partnerships that includes elements of financial and human capital impact. Almost all of our participants including Concordia, Rockefeller Foundation, Gates Foundation, Skoll World Forum, and Opportunity Collaboration named that catalyzing partnerships was central to their reason for convening, and one of the most difficult areas of impact to measure or attribute to the convening.  Part of this is due to the nature of partnerships, and that they often form over time and where participants initiate, define, refine, and celebrate results and outcomes from their partnerships at a variety of convenings over time – making it very difficult for any one convening to attribute the outcomes of a partnership to their convening efforts.
      • Shared Understanding – Gates Foundation’s Giving Pledge convenings have an emphasis on “making connections and learning in order to achieve more informed and intentional giving” according to Marylou Brannan.  When the focus is on shared learning, formats that favor building awareness between participants and clearer understanding of the why and how behind their work becomes a primary focus.
    3. Environmental ImpactSocial Venture Circle and other conveners are leading the way in modeling positive environmental impacts from their convenings.  There is a trend now to have carbon neutral or zero waste events that deliver a positive environmental impact directly from the event in addition to supporting participants in identifying, supporting, and adopting more environmentally beneficial habits and practices.



Unlike Gather’s framework that encourages the selection of a single convening objective to help clarify and focus the design process for your convening, we believe that a convening can have multiple impact objectives.  Having clarity about your objectives can help to direct the design decisions you make as well as the evaluation frameworks you adopt.  
Private Equity Investment Example
Each of the categories above has an implication in terms of the design decisions you must make when crafting your convening.  If your objective is to drive financial transactions – specifically private equity, then the implication is that you must build spaces and opportunities for participants to not only be aware of each other’s businesses and investment thesis, you also must create spaces for building trust.  Rarely are investments made purely from a pitch competition. There are additional questions that are raised as to if your objective is to drive additional co-investment which would imply that it would be helpful to create investor only spaces for conversations about alignment and addressing barriers to moving forward on specific deal opportunities.  Within each of these design decisions, there are lenses you can apply around accessibility, gender, geographic, socio-economic, or racial diversity.
Building Effective Partnerships
It is helpful to understand where in the lifecycle of the development of partnerships your convening wants to focus.  If it is in initiating new partnerships, then design elements that support participants in gaining awareness of one another’s work, impact, area of focus are critical.  If your goal is to help refine or solidify new partnerships, models like Concordia work well with facilitated closed-door sessions that support participants in clarifying their shared purpose, identifying gaps in their understanding or knowledge, designing prototypes or tests for the relationships, or reflecting and integrating lessons learned.  
Conveners.org has worked on this model through our Convening Circles framework as we’ve also identified that frequently a large convening is very helpful at the beginning and end of this process – for identifying the shared alignment and interest as well as reflecting and celebrating outcomes and lessons learned.  However the work of addressing gaps in knowledge or running pilots/tests can be best supported through small group working sessions held between the convening. Amanda Broun of Convergence has shared the powerful outcomes of their Dialogue to Action framework from healthcare reform to building a better budgeting process on the Hill.  This process takes a similar approach to make sure that the group is grounded in research on what else has already been attempted, and network coordination to support the participants in staying focused and taking action together.
In the next blog in our series, we will be exploring Convening in a Complex World and the importance of building strong relationships across silos to achieve the UN SDGs by 2030.