The goldilocks challenge: Right-fit evidence for the social sector

Mary Kay Gugerty, Dean Karlan

Research output: Book/ReportBook

12 Scopus citations


Nonprofits, governments, and social enterprises face increasing pressure to prove that their programs are making a positive impact on the world. This focus on impact is positive: learning whether we are making a difference enhances our ability to effectively address pressing social problems, and is critical for wise stewardship of resources. However, measuring the impact of a program is not always possible, nor is impact evaluation always the right choice for every organization or program. Accurately assessing impact requires information about what would have happened had the program not occurred, and it can be difficult and costly (or even impossible) to gather that information. Yet actors in the social sector face stiff competition for funding, and competition often demands evidence of impact. Faced with this pressure, organizations often attempt to measure impact even when the accuracy is questionable or worse. The result? A lot of misleading data and rhetoric about what works. Moreover, in this pursuit, many organizations collect huge amounts of data that cannot be or are not put to good use for learning and program improvement. Bottom line: Impact is great to measure when you can. But not everyone can and should measure impact. What, then, should organizations do? The Goldilocks Challenge presents four key principles to help guide organizations of all sizes and types in building strong, “right-fit” data collection systems. Those principles-Credible, Actionable, Responsible, and Transportable, or “CART”-describe how organizations can build data systems that support learning and improvement and measure impact when the time is right.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages302
ISBN (Electronic)9780199366088
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Evaluation and learning (mel)
  • Evidence
  • Goldilocks
  • Impact evaluation
  • Monitoring
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Ngo
  • Nonprofit
  • Performance management
  • Social impact
  • Social sector

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)


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