measuring vibrancy, love in communities

When I sent out the idea for ImpactPeace to some friends I got one great response right away. It was from Gena Gammie, a great friend who a couple of weeks ago met Steve Wright, who works at the Grameen Foundation. Wright, as Gena put it,  “has started to do some really interesting thinking around how to measure ‘vibrancy’ and love in communities, as a measure for development and generally progress toward the type of society we want.”  He gave this talk recently, which Gena found to represent really powerful, innovative thinking.

“Communities are the only context where love is a currency.”

Wright suggests investors look into communities for love as evidence of success. He talks about ‘vibrancy’ as a way to define healthy communities, saying vibrancy can indeed be measurable if we think of communities as networks, and borrow from other sciences such as fractal mathematics, network science, and big data. Vibrancy is presented as a metric of real social good: it is good because a community member could only be ‘valued’ in terms of her contribution to vibrancy, and it would be our capacity to give and reputation of giving that would make us valuable.

Wright’s approach innovates our conceptualization of ‘currency’ and therefore can redefine the notion of a return on investment. It would be interesting to follow up on how his suggestion for metrics of vibrancy play out (maybe in a future post!), in the meantime, similar thinking exists around how we can operationalize positive concepts such as resilience.

Wright’s talk makes clear pressure to prove return on investment in quantifiable metrics is faced by all innovators, not least in the private sector. For most, ‘social return on investment’, Wright says, really means “measuring social outcomes is really hard and people only care about money anyway so lets reduce social return to dollars to make everyone more comfortable.” The need for simply quantification works against what is really needed : effective solutions to real problems . This is the same frustration of anyone trying to effect change in a complex system of interdependent mechanisms.