Fast-moving social enterprises, strapped for cash and time, face a conundrum when it comes to measuring social performance. Traditional measurement tools, whether inherited from international development or impact investing, don’t make sense. They are either too costly because they were designed for large-scale aid projects or focus on typical business metrics that don’t get to the heart of impact. Created from the ground up, Lean Data puts entrepreneurs, and their customers, first.

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Lean Data is the application of lean experimentation principles to the collection and use of social performance data. It involves a shift in mindset away from reporting and compliance and toward creating value for a company and its customers. Lean Data uses low-cost technology to communicate directly with end customers, getting high-quality data quickly and efficiently.

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What Makes Lean Data Different

Lean Data is a revolution in how social performance data is collected, analyzed and integrated into a company’s decision-making. By embedding measurement and data collection into a company’s core and using the right tools to rapidly gather information, social enterprises can gain clear insight into their social performance at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional measurement.

Lean Data revolutionizes measurement by moving:

  • From compliance to collaboration. There is no right, one-size-fits-all approach to measuring social performance. We start with asking our entrepreneurs one simple question “What does successful social change look like to you?” and work together with them to design a data collection approach that answers the questions they care about the most.
  • From putting the investor first to putting the customer first. Measurement is too often done at the behest of donors or investors. Lean Data creates the space to hear from customers to help our companies provide more impactful products or services.
  • From reporting requirements to better business decision-making. Typical measurement approaches create data that’s sent off to funders. Successful Lean Data projects create a recurring stream of customer information that companies use to make better business decisions.
  • From resource-heavy and expensive to time- and cost-efficient. By leveraging technology—SMS, integrated voice response, and call centers—we can get high-quality data quickly without spending a lot of money.


The three building blocks of Lean Data are:

  • Lean Design: We tailor our measurement and collection approach to the unique context of each company, utilizing existing company-customer touchpoints where possible.
  • Lean Surveys: By keeping our surveys focused, we gather meaningful information on social performance while requiring little of the customer’s time.
  • Lean Tools: Mobile technology is everywhere. With it, Lean Data enables our companies to have quick, direct communication with customers even in the most remote areas. Inexpensive text messaging, Interactive Voice Response and other low-cost technologies provide multiple channels to contact customers directly.

Our dedicated Impact team is spread across each of our geographies. By working closely with our companies on the ground, we ensure the integrity of the data we collect while building their capacity to analyze the information to improve the decisions they make.

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Acumen investee Ziqitza Healthcare Limited is an ambulance company committed to serving India’s poor. Its nearly 1,000 ambulances operate across six states and answer more than 2.5 million calls a year. Yet, seven years in to operations, the company had no real data on its customers and was uncertain whether it was actually fulfilling its social mission and reaching the poor.

In early 2014, Acumen used Grameen Foundation’s ten-question, poverty measurement tool, Progress Out of Poverty Index® (PPI®) survey tool, a set of 10 questions to ask Ziqitza clients and worked with the company on training their call center employees to incorporate the questions into their usual customer feedback survey. After just one day of training, the Lean Data collection was seamlessly integrated into company operations. In a month, Ziqitza deepened its customer knowledge, gathering information on not only their medical needs but also their poverty levels.

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