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Differences between personal, social and institutional impact

This article provides a deeper understanding of the different levels of impact and how they influence each other.
© Portra / DigitalVision / Getty Images

In the previous steps, we discussed impact and its importance to entrepreneurs. This article provides a deeper understanding of the different types of impact and how they influence each other.

Impact is not a ‘one-system-fits-all’ concept. Although it is mostly associated with social impact or the impact of social institutions, impact includes other facets such as personal and institutional impact. Each of these can and should be measured differently.

Personal impact

Personal impact is about the effect of an individual’s actions on other people (or other people on them), in an organisation, or in society. An individual has the potential to make a positive or negative impact on others.

The problem with measuring personal impact is that many people are not clear about their own personal vision. If, as an entrepreneur, you do not know what your personal vision is, or that of those you are impacting, how can you measure outcomes and impact? People are different, so perceive outcomes and impact differently.

One person’s vision could be to develop a specific amount of pension income per month after retirement (the outcome), which would allow them comfortable countryside living (the impact of the success). Some would be able to measure their personal impact on a quantitative basis, such as the percentage of confidence and self-esteem, sense of wellbeing, sense of control of their life, and satisfaction on the aspiration and ambition targets.

Others can measure their personal impact more qualitatively through storytelling: ‘I have eliminated my personal debts and grown my retirement investment’, for example. One is not more correct than the other; it depends on personal preferences. However, personal impact may have a substantial effect on how social and institutional impact is approached.

So, should entrepreneurship be about making a positive impact on the lives of others through their actions or interventions? How can they do this effectively, bearing in mind the differences in people’s personal visions?

Social impact

Social impact refers to the effects (positive or negative) of interventions implemented by various stakeholders (eg entrepreneurs, governments), including activities, projects, and policies on society (Vanclay 1999). It can also be defined as the effect of planned interventions to address identified social issues (Bloch 2012).

Social impact has been described as telling the story of the changes created to people’s lives and organisations (Meldrum et al. 2016). However, such impact is sometimes more difficult to measure, so it is important that the same rules are not applied for different types of impact and that a new way to measure it is found (Meldrum et al. 2016).

Institutional impact

Institutional impact refers to the effects (positive or negative) of institutional activities on individuals or society. For example, universities make an institutional impact through their role in the capacity-building of students who eventually join the workforce or create businesses.

Irrespective of the type of impact, it should also be noted when measuring, some interventions have a direct impact, while others result in creating processes which then create impact (Vanclay 1999). In this case, they are referred to as second order impact.

For example, if the number of students in a specific university grows fast, it might have a positive impact on the local economy. However, if these students stay on, this growth of numbers may have an additional impact (second order) on infrastructure, such as housing, schools and hospitals.

Your task

How would you measure impact differently for the three types (personal, social and institutional)?

Which type of impact is most important to you and why?

Explore what other learners are saying and reply with your own thoughts.


Bloch, B. (2012) ‘Everyone’s Story Counts: Measuring Social Impact in the Not-for-Profit Sector – an Overview’. Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 4 (3), 1-17

Meldrum, B., Read, P. and Harrison, C., (2016) A Guide to Measuring Social Impact [online] available from

Vanclay, F. (1999) ‘Social Impact Assessment’. in International Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment. ed. by Petts, J. Oxford: Blackwell Science

© Coventry University and Deakin University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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Measuring Entrepreneurial Impact

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