numbers, numbers, numbers

In a world consumed with quantitative evaluation, don’t forget the power of words and stories to demonstrate impact.

In his book, The Power of Social Innovation, Stephen Goldsmith (@powerofsocinnov) has many good messages for social entrepreneurs and social innovators, but one message that sticks is that it is important to ensure that “excellent doesn’t become the enemy of the good”.  By this he advocates that evaluation should not constrain innovation.  Evaluation is important but systems of social innovation need to look beyond simple numbers to see quality.
York’s KMb Unit has lots of numbers (counting since 2006) to demonstrate its activity, but these fall short of demonstrating impact.
211:     # faculty involved in York’s KMb activities.  This represents about 14% of York’s total full time, tenure/tenure track faculty complement
149:     # graduate students involved in York’s KMb activities.  This represents students involved as interns and in research projects with faculty and community partners
139:     # information sessions for faculty and students.
162:     # information sessions for community/government agencies.
195:     # agencies involved in KMb partnerships.  This represents agencies participating in projects, KM in the AM and other KMb Unit events.
369K   ($) Funding community agencies raised in collaboration with York’s KMb Unit activities.
771K   ($) Research contract funding from partners for collaborative York U research projects via the KMb Unit.
15M     ($) External grant funding raised by research teams that engaged York’s KMb Unit to assist with KMb plans.
3.2M    number of web hits.  Web hits is a measure of traffic but not of engagement; however, it tripled after starting on twitter.
124:     number of ResearchSnapshots posted at
1642:   number of tweets.  For the week starting November 15 @researchimpact received 15 retweets or twitter mentions from
657:     twitter followers.
162:     delicious bookmarks ( using
239:     tags (
199:     blog posts on Mobilize This! ( with
167:     comments from readers who read an average of
3,658: views every month from May-Sept 2010.
These numbers may or may not be impressive but they only tell part of the story… and not the most compelling part.

We recently held a meeting of researchers, graduate students and front line service providers from the York Region Children’s Aid Society (CAS) to get feedback on a CIHR funded project exploring the use of social media to mediate knowledge mobilization.
Words tell the story that numbers cannot:
“social media offers the opportunity to step away form my day to day and into the larger picture” (CAS employee)
“this project gave me the ability to connect to other practitioners and to researchers” (CAS employee)
“any tool we have to get information out in useable ways that fits with our staff is good” (CAS manager)
“this experience informed my choices about future research directions” (York U graduate student)
“it was validating to receive feedback from a researcher” (CAS employee)
“it is important to know that my research has a benefit” (York U graduate student)
“social media facilitates knowledge exchange with community partners” (York U researcher)
The York U and York Region CAS participants have deepened their collaboration by receiving funding from the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
These stories and their continued collaboration illustrate the benefits of social media and knowledge mobilization for researchers, students and front line practitioners.  Numbers can’t do that.