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Reaping global harvests: how we achieve and measure our impact

By Practical Action On 21.12.2022 Blog

While the scale of the global issues that face us can seem overwhelming at times, it is often simple interventions that make a huge difference for individuals. And when these are replicated and scaled up, so is the impact.

Read on to find out how we approach measuring change at an international level, and why it is important.


How we contribute to systems impact

The problems of climate change, poverty and environmental degradation exist because the core systems that underpin our world are failing. Changing these systems is beyond the capability of a single business, government, NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) or individual. It needs people to work together, pooling their skills and resources on a global scale. Understanding this allows us to develop solutions that work for people at all levels of society, and for the living systems we rely on.

However, in a complex and interconnected world, achieving system change is not linear and happens at multiple levels over long periods of time. These changes may take years to achieve, and are brought about through the actions of many, including ourselves.

Everything we do at Practical Action is designed around the needs of the people we work with, and to contribute to changing the systems that hold them back. That’s why we work in varied and connected ways, to achieve impact:

  1. Sowing the seeds of change
    • Developing community led solutions and evidence of what solutions work, and what doesn’t. And piloting new approaches to entrenched problems.
  2. Cultivating strong growth
    • Building on practical success and lessons learned, with our partners, to create wider impact in communities at a national or regional level.
  3. Reaping global harvests
    • Connecting key players from the private and public sectors with communities, so proven high-tech and low-tech solutions can contribute to sustained big change.


Reporting on our progress

Systems changes are challenging to measure. Especially when our work may contribute just one input to a much larger change, with multiple inputs over time. But as an organisation committed to big, systemic change, we believe it is important to measure and report on our progress as transparently as possible.


Measuring our reach

We measure the reach of our activities annually, across different groups of people within a system. These groups may intersect and overlap, but this approach provides a measure of how many people we have reached with a potential benefit in a given year.

Reach is one of a wider set of global indicators we use to measure progress towards our aims and to understand changes towards people’s lives, livelihoods and the system they are a part of.


  • Direct reach: Measures the number of people who benefit from participating directly in our projects and activities.
  • Indirect reach: Measures the number of additional people who benefit beyond project participants. These are typically extended family members and the wider local community, as well as people reached through partners whom we have supported – such as local NGOs, or local government authorities.
  • Systemic reach: Measures the wider groups of people reached by policy and practice changes. This includes people who benefit from as a result of an enabling environment change. It also encompasses people who benefit from changes made by partners we work with who are equipped to deliver change at scale – such as the private sector and national governments.


More about systemic reach

We measure systemic reach where we can demonstrate a clear causal link, and these numbers may vary significantly year on year. For example, our influencing work may contribute to a policy change that creates the enabling environment for large numbers of people to benefit in the future. Or our work with the private sector may result in changes to their business models that deliver rapid ongoing benefits to many people.

We also have a specific global indicator dedicated to measuring change to the enabling environment. This qualitative indicator looks at shift over time. We examine what foundation has been built (attitudes, commitments, decision-making forums) and what change it has enabled (budgets, policy content, behaviour).


Demonstrating positive outcomes

As well as measuring the reach of our work, we use global indicators to report on resulting outcomes. These figures tell us about the positive effects recorded in the lives of communities we work with.

Our global indicators include the number of new jobs and businesses created; the number of changes made to the enabling environment that support our strategic aims. We have specific indicators for each aim that help us understand outcomes for people living in poverty.

This is how we will measure progress towards our strategic objectives – from the positive changes to individuals’ lives through our projects, to our contribution to wider systemic change.

We use this data to understand contributions to our targets, make strategic decisions and prioritise areas for support and improvement.


Meet the changemakers

We achieve this reach and impact by working with partners to take solutions from small and local to systemic and global. By convening the right mix of people at the right time, we are able to create meaningful change in many more lives than by acting alone.

Read more about the impact we achieved in 2021/22 in our Annual Report.