Avoiding the Garbage In Garbage Out Experience: Social Performance Beyond the Software

Let’s face it, many companies assume that buying an information management system (also known as social performance software, a social performance application, or an IMS) is the silver bullet in getting social performance right. After all, these systems can generate impressive reports, analyze trends, and create powerful graphs. Frankly, they seem like an ideal tool, with the potential to transform raw data into management information and to make use of data that may otherwise seem quite bland and meaningless.

We’ve seen a variety of sites where social performance practitioners waited until the end of the month to use the reporting function, played around with it, and found themselves severely disappointed that the application did not magically produce some eye-catching graphs.

Other companies acknowledged that the system only processes the data it is fed. They asked their staff to fill in all the fields in the various sections, fully expecting the system to generate powerful reports as a result of their hard work. They, too, were disappointed at the end of the month to find that the software did not generate anything they couldn’t have produced with Excel.

These tools are designed to manage social performance, so what happened?

A number of faulty assumptions led to suboptimal results. In these situations, users mistakenly believed that:

  • The system would (automatically?) generate management information once it is fed lots of data, and
  • The more information they feed the system, the more (and better) reports it will be able to provide

Above all, the key point that many company sites didn’t take into account is that computers have a hard time generating information if we do not tell them what we want. Without a clear understanding of what information we need to guide our activities, there is a high risk of falling into the “garbage in-garbage out” trap.

If they don’t see the results they’re expecting, staff can become frustrated with the system and see their time-consuming data entry efforts as pointless. As a result, they may doubt the effectiveness of the social performance software itself and fear that they made a bad investment.

Nobody likes data entry. Personally, I have a simple rule; using an IMS is all about how to get the optimum (not maximum) amount of management information by inputting the minimum amount of data. In other words, first think about the information you want the system to generate and then insert the data, only in the fields that are relevant to the desired results. In a way, when deciding how to use social performance software like Borealis you have to think backwards. After all, what is the point of filling in fields that are not being used in your analysis?

How to get the most out of your social performance software

The steps to follow are actually quite straightforward and simple:​

  1. Determine the management information you want the system to provide
  2. Identify the KPIs that need to be tracked to get this info
  3. Use these KPIs to determine which fields need to be populated in the application
  4. Be consistent in using these fields on the various grievance, engagement, and other forms

What does this look like in practice?

Let’s take – as an example – grievance management.

The table below provides examples to show how you can link management information to KPIs and to entries in the system [1]:

Management information useful to the leadership team

KPIs to track to provide this management information

IMS entries or fields to include on grievance forms

Key themes to focus on No. of grievances by theme

Case #

Date received


Geographical hot spots No. of grievances by village Village
Location-specific themes that must be addressed No. of types of grievance by location Area
Depts./Contractors the grievance office needs to work with on prevention No. and types of grievances by department/contractor  Associated department/ contractor
The learning ability of the company
(KPIs should go down over time)
Percentage of repeat grievances Repeat grievance
Monitoring and managing distribution
of acknowledgement letters
Percentage of cases without acknowledgement letter Date of acknowledgement letter
Measure (non) compliance with public promises Percentage of cases where complainant received feedback after SOP time frame

Date grievance was lodged

Date outcome form was signed

Overall social performance of the grievance management system Average resolution time Date outcome form was signed
Investigation time management Investigation response time, by department Date investigation was completed
Public trust in the system Percentage of True/False claims True/False
Identify opportunities for engagement Percentage of cases solved through rapid assessment

Date outcome form was signed

Public trust in the recourse mechanism No. of cases that qualify for the recourse mechanism Date of recourse mechanism request
Identify resources needed to resolve outstanding grievances Percentage of outstanding grievances by department Associated department/contractor
Make the business case for grievance prevention Compensation costs due to company caused grievances Costs
Determine the effectiveness of the grievance mechanism from a social
risk- exposure perspective

a) Percentage of satisfaction with process AND outcome

b) Percentage of satisfaction with process – NOT with outcome

c) Percentage of NO satisfaction with process – YES with outcome

d) Percentage of NO satisfaction with process or outcome

Satisfaction with process: y/n

Satisfaction with outcome: y/n

[1] Adapted from the IPIECA Manual on Community Grievance Mechanisms

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