Getting Started with IRIS

Welcome to IRIS.

IRIS is your free, online catalog for selecting performance metrics.

In this guide, we’ll first cover all the basics, like how IRIS works (and how it will help you do your job). Then we’ll get into the more hands-on details, like how to choose metrics for your IRIS-based performance measurement program. Keep in mind, however, that even though selecting metrics is core to developing an impact measurement program, impact measurement doesn’t start and stop there.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • How IRIS works
  • How to select metrics that matter to you
  • How to avoid common mistakes

This guide is designed with special consideration for the needs of fund managers and other investors managing a portfolio of companies. However, the concepts, tips, and practical examples will be useful to any organization looking to get a basic understanding of IRIS-based performance measurement.

There’s no previous experience or specific expertise required to choose impact performance metrics. You only need to answer three questions.

  1. Why do you want impact data?
  2. What do you really want or need to know about your investees?
  3. How do you want to use data once you have it?

Once you answer these questions, selecting your IRIS performance metrics is not difficult. This guide will walk you through these questions, and once you are through, you will be able to create a set of IRIS metrics that meet your needs.

Now, let’s get started!

How IRIS Works (and other things you should know)

You are here because you have heard that impact investors use IRIS to understand the social and environmental performance of their investees. Before you can start using IRIS to track and report the performance of your investees, you need to know how IRIS works, what it does and doesn’t do, and how it fits into a broader impact measurement practice. Here’s some information every IRIS user should know.

What is IRIS?

IRIS is the catalog of generally accepted performance metrics that leading impact investors use to measure social, environmental, and financial success.

IRIS measures the performance of an organization.

In the IRIS catalog, you will find metrics for:

  • Financial performance, including standard financial reporting metrics such as current assets and financial liabilities
  • Operational performance, including metrics to assess your investees’ governance policies, employment practices, and the social and environmental impact of their day-to-day business activities
  • Product performance, including metrics that describe and quantify the social and environmental benefits of the products, services, and unique processes offered by your investees
  • Sector performance, including metrics that describe and quantify impact in particular social and environmental sectors, including agriculture, financial services, and healthcare
  • Social and environmental objective performance, including metrics that describe and quantify progress towards specific impact objectives such as employment generation or sustainable land use.

IRIS is a catalog.

There is no single combination of metrics that is right for everybody; that’s why IRIS is designed as a catalog that you can browse to find the most appropriate metrics for your work. IRIS includes metrics tailored to specific sectors, as well as metrics that can be used by companies irrespective of their social or environmental goals and the sector and regions in which they work. This means that IRIS is a useful resource for impact investors working around the world, in different sectors, and with a variety of social and environmental impact objectives. IRIS metrics can also be selected to complement and sit alongside any proprietary impact metrics your organization tracks.

Because IRIS is a catalog, you can choose as few or as many metrics as you deem necessary to describe the performance of your investees.

IRIS is built on best practices.

IRIS metrics don’t reinvent the wheel. IRIS lines up with widely accepted standards wherever possible, which is why you see many familiar metrics referenced in the catalog. With IRIS, you’ll find in one place metrics that have been vetted, approved, and are the most widely used from across the field. Instead of searching many different metrics systems—say, agriculture metrics for one part of your portfolio, microfinance metrics for another, and health services for a third—you can find the performance metrics already used in these different sectors all in IRIS. Not only does IRIS provide a single reference point for performance metrics by pulling best practices in impact measurement from many areas of focus, it also equips you to build an informed system that produces data that can be compared with your peers. Additionally, the IRIS initiative actively collaborates with many different standards-setting bodies to create continued unity and coordination across various performance measurement metrics providers.

IRIS is built on existing standards whenever possible. However, when standards do not exist, the IRIS expert advisory committee convenes subject-specific working groups composed of specialists to recommend new metrics. The IRIS initiative also relies on input from users, so we encourage you to propose feedback where you find that IRIS metrics could be improved.

IRIS is only one component of an impact measurement program.

Though deciding which IRIS metrics you will use is critical to developing an impact measurement program, impact measurement doesn’t stop with metrics selection.

When we say “impact measurement program” we mean the processes and activities that your organization implements in order to manage investee performance and track progress toward desired social and environmental objectives. These activities include determining what to measure, collecting and analyzing the related information, and using the results in decision-making and reporting.

IRIS complements other performance measurement tools.

When considering which metrics to use, IRIS is your go-to for selecting metrics that are industry- approved and used by your peers. IRIS does not, however, address the other elements of creating an impact measurement program, including how to collect, analyze, or verify the resulting data. But, IRIS metrics can be used in conjunction with a range of tools and resources that do support these steps. For more information about some of the existing assessment tools, data platforms, and other methodologies used by impact investors, like the Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS), Social Return on Investment (SROI), and others, in the appendix.

What does it mean to use IRIS?

IRIS metrics are available for free so you can browse or download the metrics and simply start using those that are relevant to you. Additionally, you are encouraged to register your IRIS use on the IRIS user registry and to appropriately cite IRIS metrics in external reports and communications (see "A note about reporting".

How IRIS is used.

IRIS can be used by professionals across the full investment value chain. Here are a few examples:

The Investor

An investor wants to put five percent of her portfolio into companies developing clean energy products. She finds two funds reporting similar rates of financial return. Because both funds report their environmental performance using IRIS definitions, she can fairly compare the number of households that have gained access to clean energy as a result of the investee companies’ activities. Though more households are reached through investment in the first fund, the second fund’s portfolio companies primarily serve rural areas with no prior access to electricity. Because rural access is a priority for this investor, she moves five percent of her assets into the second fund.

The Fund Manager

A sustainable trade fund manager receives inconsistent performance data from his portfolio companies, which are local farming cooperatives in developing countries. One cooperative in Argentina reports that his investment of USD 500,000 has created 115 new jobs. Another cooperative in Ecuador reports that an investment of the same amount has supported 80 new jobs. The fund manager knows from prior visits that new jobs in Ecuador are mostly year-round jobs, and that many of the new jobs in Argentina are seasonal. But, because each cooperative uses its own definition for counting new jobs created, the fund manager cannot use the reported data to fairly compare the two investments, nor can he combine data from the two businesses to describe the fund’s overall impact to his investors. By adopting IRIS as the reporting standard across his portfolio, the fund manager will get comparable data across his portfolio, and will be able to compare them to aggregated data from the field. This helps him manage the performance of his investments, inform investors about his activities, and guide future investments.

The Entrepreneur

An entrepreneur in Ethiopia is raising capital to expand a healthcare business providing physical examinations and low-cost nutritional supplements to rural poor. Prospective investors are asking for information about the expected financial return and social impact of an investment in the company. The entrepreneur decides to use IRIS definitions to track how many people met with a doctor or nurse, and how many received the nutritional supplement. This makes investment in his company more attractive to funders because investors are able to easily evaluate the performance of this investment compared to IRIS benchmarks and other investments they have made in healthcare businesses in the region.

To see a list of leading organizations that use IRIS—and the metrics they use—check out the IRIS user registry

IRIS doesn’t certify whether you are good or bad... and other common misconceptions about IRIS.

So, we now know what IRIS is, but what is it not? In short:

  • IRIS is not an evaluation tool. It doesn’t offer a “certification” or “seal of approval” and it does not rate users as having high or low impact.
  • IRIS is not a data management platform. It does not provide a system to help you collect and store your performance data.
  • IRIS is not a reporting framework. It does not provide reporting guidelines nor require reporting of a specific set of information.

IRIS is designed to be used with and by performance measurement tools and systems that offer guidance in the areas above, including the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI), Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST) Shared Impact Assessment Measurement Toolbox (SIAMT), and many others.

The bottom line: How IRIS works

IRIS is an industry-recognized and curated catalog of metrics that provides a starting point for measuring your social and environmental results. If you are still unsure if IRIS is right for you, keep in mind that IRIS helps you:

Take the guesswork out of finding or creating performance metrics.

By cataloging the most useful metrics from across the industry in one place, IRIS makes it easier to create informed performance measurement systems and avoid mistakes that affect results and credibility.

Compare your performance data within your own portfolio and against your peers.

By providing a common language to talk about results, IRIS makes it easier to compare investments and communicate performance with the entire industry.

Grow your credibility and the credibility of the impact investing industry.

IRIS bolsters impact investing by creating a credible set of industry-wide data that present a clear picture of the impact our investments are having.

Creating a Metrics Framework that Uses IRIS

Creating a Metrics Framework that Uses IRIS.

Getting started with IRIS means creating a metrics framework for your organization and then selecting relevant metrics from the IRIS catalog. Of course, what is relevant to one organization may be very different from what is relevant to another. In this section, you’ll find tips for creating a metrics framework, including assembling sets of IRIS metrics that make sense for your portfolio.

Follow the four steps below to create a metrics framework based on your organization’s informational needs.

Create a metrics framework that uses IRIS in four easy steps:

  1. Start with the end in mind
  2. Create a "Data-Wanted-List"
  3. Organize Your Portfolio
  4. Choose Your Metrics

Why do you want to track impact performance data?

The most useful metrics frameworks are created when organizations like yours start by defining their motivations for tracking impact data. To help you get started, we’ve outlined a few common reasons and considerations. In practice, most organizations use impact information for a combination of purposes. The most important thing is that you understand and then prioritize your reasons before you start choosing IRIS metrics so that you only select the metrics that are best fit for your purposes.

For example, do you want:

  • To communicate with stakeholders and/or satisfy specific reporting requirements?
  • To gauge progress toward specific social or environmental objectives?
  • To gather basic data to track the evolution of your investees’ performance?

Communications and Reporting Requirements

If you want to communicate the performance of your investees to your stakeholders as part of your transparency and impact reporting commitments, for marketing purposes, to facilitate fundraising efforts, or if you are here because an investor told you to report IRIS metrics, choose metrics that are relevant to these stakeholders.

Progress Against Impact Objectives

If you have a specific investment strategy that is designed to address one or more social or environmental objectives then you will want to choose metrics that are related to those objectives.

Investee Progress

If your motivation for tracking social or environmental data is to better understand the overall business performance of your investees, you will want to choose metrics that are specific to each investee in order to monitor their performance changes over time.

What do you really want or need to know about your investees?

The easiest way to answer this question is to start making a “data-wanted-list.” This list can be created in an Excel spreadsheet, Word document, or even on the back of a napkin. The purpose is for you to start considering the performance information you may be interested in capturing.

Consider your answer(s) from Step 1 as you make your data-wanted-lists:

  1. To track performance for Communications and Reporting Requirements
    1. Create a list of your stakeholders’ information needs.
    2. Create a second list of the data that each of your investees is able to produce based on their business model, sector, and offering. At this point, it’s okay if neither list is based on IRIS metrics. We’ll align them later in Step 4.
  2. To track progress toward Specific Social or Environmental Objectives
    1. Define a goal(s) for social or environmental impact that is achievable and specific. What problems do you want to address or what things do you want to change through your investments? Make a list of a few tangible milestones or specific examples that would indicate progress or success relative to those goals. Don’t worry if these milestones or examples aren’t yet quantitative.
    2. If you already have investments, make a second list of what each of the companies in your portfolio is doing or could do—based on their sector, products, or business model—to address the goal(s) you defined. It’s okay if you end up with multiple objectives or invest in multiple sectors. Like many IRIS users, you may decide to choose groups of metrics that apply to a particular peer group of investees within your portfolio that share a common social or environmental objective. Or, if you have a narrowly-focused portfolio, the metrics you choose can measure performance related to the overall objective of your entire portfolio.
  3. To track the ongoing and relative Social and Environmental Progress of your Investees
    1. Create a list of the basic data each investee in your portfolio could track to help manage their day- to-day business operations. This list should be specific to each investee. For example, if you invest in a company whose products reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then you may include information that could help you gauge the annual greenhouse gas emissions offset/mitigated as a result of sales of their products.

Next, combine the lists you just created.

See if there is any overlap between stakeholders, objectives, investees, and so forth. If so, make sure to match and merge the requirements in order to narrow down your list. You will use this single master list to align your data needs with IRIS metrics that can help produce that data. (See the sample table below for an easy way to keep it organized.)

Sample: Organizing your master list

Data Stakeholder 1 Stakeholder 2 Objective 1 Objective 2 Investee 1 Investee 2
Employment
Production Volumes
Sales Volumes
Clients in Target Demographic

How do you want to use the data once you have it?

Once you are settled on the purpose for tracking social and environmental performance and have created a list of the basic types of information you want or need, you’ll want to consider how you are going to analyze the resulting information. As part of this, you should decide how you want to apply the metrics to your portfolio. Do you want to use:

  • The same set of metrics across your entire portfolio?
  • Different sets of metrics for different clusters within your portfolio?
  • A little bit of both?

Same Set

If you have a narrowly focused portfolio in terms of your sectors of focus or your impact objectives, and you want to compare performance among your investments or you want to aggregate the performance of all your investments, then you likely will want to create one set of IRIS metrics. No need to worry about segmenting your portfolio by sector, geography, impact objective or otherwise, since all your information rolls up to the same goals every time.

Different Sets

If you have a diverse portfolio in terms of impact objectives, sectors, or target demographics, you may seek more granular information about the performance within segments of your portfolio. If this sounds like you, you will likely want to create multiple metrics sets that are focused on tracking performance for each portfolio segment.

A Little Bit of Both

If you have goals that apply to your entire portfolio but invest in many different sectors, you may want to create one set of cross-portfolio metrics, as well as several sector-specific sets. For example, if you care about sustainable energy you may want to track greenhouse gas emissions across your entire portfolio, while choosing different and specific metrics to measure the performance of energy efficiency service companies, biofuels companies, and green buildings. This same principle can be applied the other way around: If you only invest in one sector—health, for example—but care about increasing access to clean water, improving global health, and serving poor and vulnerable populations —you may want to select a set of sector-specific metrics for your entire portfolio and create specific metrics sets for each of these impact objectives. Organizing your framework in this way ensures you won’t bother the biofuels company with green building metrics and you won’t bother the mobile clinic company with water metrics. And, of course, you can request data using cross-portfolio metrics with all of your investees.

Truestone Impact Investment Management: “a little bit of both” metrics framework example

Truestone Impact Investment Management (TIIM) is an investment manager focused on delivering market-rate returns by investing globally across a range of asset classes in diverse social and environmental sectors, including microfinance, forestry, agriculture, and renewable energy. Its investments are made mainly in emerging and frontier markets, with an emphasis on funds and companies that have the potential to generate transformational improvements to lives and livelihoods of disadvantaged individuals and communities.

Truestone monitors the performance of its investments against specific social and environmental parameters. Truestone’s metrics framework includes a set of core cross-portfolio metrics—which they chose from the IRIS catalog—that can be applied to every investment across the portfolio. Because the portfolio is diverse in terms of sectors, Truestone also selected and created sector-specific metrics sets that can be applied to relevant investments.

Find the IRIS metrics that are right for you.

Browse the Virtual Catalog

If you already have a general idea of what you might want to track, you can go directly to the online IRIS catalog and start searching and filtering for the metrics that align with your data needs and objectives.
When you search for metrics, keep in mind that IRIS is designed to support a diverse community of users. Therefore, the catalog purposely uses general terminology to make it easier for you to apply metrics across your portfolio or for specific investees. The online catalog filter function allows you to narrow in on specific metrics based on your investment priorities and focus areas. The filter process is inclusive, as as you add criteria, applicable metrics will be added. For example, if you use the filter to view land conservation metrics, and then you add a filter to view water metrics, the resulting list will include all metrics relevant to land conservation, water, or both. Use the bookmark icon to save chosen metrics along the way. Download or share your selections when you have completed your search.

Tips to find your metrics by successfully filtering the online IRIS catalog:

Set your filter criteria to reflect your priorities and focus areas using the following categories:

To navigate the full catalog, follow the tips below:

Using your own metrics alongside IRIS metrics.

Because the impact investing field is still relatively young, metrics may not yet exist for some of the newer innovations in the market. It’s expected that your organization may have niche performance measurement needs beyond the scope of the metrics included in IRIS. For this reason, you can supplement your selected IRIS metrics with qualitative or quantitative metrics you’ve designed to meet the specific goals of your organization.

Truestone Impact Investment Management (A little bit of both)

Back to the example set by Truestone Impact Investment Management, a firm that has selected some metrics that can apply to all investments in the portfolio, as well as metrics sets specific to particular sectors within its portfolio. We provided a general picture of Truestone’s approach here, and now we’ll show you the actual metrics that they chose for their framework. All measures listed in Truestone’s impact reports are compatible with IRIS when possible. Where IRIS does not have a suitable metric, Truestone created their own metrics, indicated in their reports with ID numbers that begin with “TIIM.” Each of Truestone’s investments must report on at least one nonfinancial measure to be included in the IM Truestone Global Impact fund. See their full report here.

Truestone Metrics Framework

Sector Metric ID Impact Type Metric Name Measure Definition
Agriculture IRIS ID: PI1568 Social Producer Price Premium Decimal or % Price premium obtained, by the producer of goods, by selling to the organization. This is relative to the average price that would otherwise be obtained in the local area for a similar good during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote the assumptions used when reporting against this metric.
IRIS ID: PI9991 Social Supplier Individuals: Smallholders Number of people Number of smallholder farmers who sold to the organization during the reporting period.
IRIS ID: OI6912 Environmental Land Directly Controlled: Sustainably Managed Number of hectares Area of land, in hectares, directly controlled by the organization and under sustainable cultivation or sustainable stewardship. Report directly-controlled hectares sustainably managed at any point in the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI6796 Environmental Land Indirectly Controlled: Sustainably Managed Number of hectares Area of land, in hectares, indirectly controlled by the organization and under sustainable cultivation or sustainable stewardship. Report indirectly-controlled hectares sustainably managed at any point during the reporting period.
Education IRIS ID: OI5896 Social Teachers Employed Number of people Number of full-time and part-time teachers employed by the organization at the end of the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI2389 Social School Enrollment: Total Number of people Number of students enrolled as of the end of the reporting period, both full-time and part-time, where each discrete student is counted regardless of number of courses.
Energy IRIS ID: PD2713 Environmental Energy Capacity of Product Number of kWh Amount of potential energy generation over the lifetime of the product based on the planned operation of the product/system. Organizations should footnote the energy type(s) and other calculation assumptions when reporting against this metric.
IRIS ID: PI5376 Environmental Greenhouse Gas Reductions due to Products Sold Number of metric tons of CO2 equivalent Amount of reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the lifetime of products sold during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote the energy type(s) and calculation assumptions used when reporting against this metric.
Health TIIM Social Caregivers Employed: Doctors Number of people Number of doctors, licensed or certified based on local requirements by the organization at the end of the reporting period.
IRIS ID: OI5796 Social Caregivers Employed: Total Number of people Number of caregivers, with current licenses, certifications, or trainings based on local requirements, employed by the organization as of the end of the reporting period.
TIIM Social Caregivers Employed: Nurses Number of people Number of nurses (including nurse practitioners) licensed or certified based on local requirements employed by the organization at the end of the reporting period.
TIIM Social Health Related Well Visits Number of visits Number of well visits or screenings, including immunization visits, conducted by the organization during the reporting period.
TIIM Social Health Related Curative Visits Number of visits Number of curative visits conducted by the organization during the reporting period.
TIIM Social Procedures/Surgeries Number of procedures Number of procedures performed (i.e. surgeries) by the organisatoin during the reporting period.
TIIM Social Immunisations Number of treatments Number of immunisation treatments provided by the organization during the reporting period. Note this refers to unique immunisations not unique patients.
TIIM Social Medicinal/Drug Provisions Number of treatments Number of drug/medicinal treatments provided by the organization during the reporting period.
TIIM Social Attended Newborn Deliveries Number of newborns delivered Number of newborn deliveries attended by professional health personnel during the reporting period.
TIIM Social Patient Beds Number of beds Number of patient beds at the end of the reporting period for reporting by hospitals and clinics.
Environment (forestry, waste, management) IRIS ID: PI4127 Environmental Trees Planted Number of hectares Hectares of trees planted by the organization during the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI9556 Environmental Ecological Restoration Management Area Number of hectares Hectares under ecological restoration management during the reporting period. Include both hectares directly controlled and hectares indirectly controlled by the organization.Organizations should footnote relevant ecological restoration activities undertaken during the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI4716 Environmental Protected Land Area: Total Number of hectares Number of hectares with a status of protected land during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote the mechanisms used to ensure protection.
Financial Services IRIS ID: PI4583 Social New Business Created Number of businesses Number of new businesses created as a result of investments made during the reporting period.
IRIS ID: FP2630 Social Loans Receivable Gross (US$) Currency, US$ Value of outstanding principals due for all of the organization's outstanding loans to clients at the end of the reporting period. This includes current, delinquent, and renegotiated loans, but not loans that have been written off. It does not include interest receivable.
TIIM Social Number of Loan Clients Number of people The number of clients who have outstanding loans with the organization at the end of the reporting period. Refer to client individuals PI4060 under cross sector.
IRIS ID: PI6439 Social Number of Voluntary Savings Accounts Number of accounts Number of voluntary savings accounts managed by the organization, including demand deposits and time deposits at the end of the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI3240 Social Value of Voluntary Savings Accounts Currency, US$ Value of voluntary savings accounts managed by the organization, including demand deposits and time deposits, at the end of the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI4940 Social Client Organizations: SME Number of businesses Number of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) that were clients of the organization during the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI9713 Social Client Organizations: Microenterprises Number of businesses Number of microenterprises that were clients of the organization durring the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI3687 Social Job Created at Directly Supported/Financed Enterprises: Total Number of full time equivalent jobs Net number of new full-time equivalent employees working for enterprises financed or supported by the organization at the end of the reporting period, and since the beginning of support/investment by the organization. Organizations should footnote the calculation assumptions, specifically the definition of full time work used when reporting against this metric.
IRIS ID: PI5691 Social Jobs Maintained at Directly Supported/Financed Enterprises Number of full time equivalent jobs Number of full-time equivalent employees working for enterprises financed or supported by the organization at the time when the organization began its support/investment. Organizations should footnote the calculation assumptions, specifically the definition of full time work used when reporting against this metric.
Water and Waste IRIS ID: PI2073 Environmental Hazardous Waste Avoided Number of kilograms Amount of hazardous waste avoided based on refurbishing/reusing/recycling as part of delivering or developing the organization's products/services during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote assumptions used when reporting against this metric.
IRIS ID: PI9468 Environmental Water Produced for Service Sale: Total Number of liters Volume of water produced and delivered to offtaker(s) during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote the calculation assumptions used when reporting against this metric.
IRIS ID: PI8043 Environmental Water Produced for Service Sale: Potable Number of liters Volume of potable water produced and delivered to offtaker(s) during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote the calculation assumptions used when reporting against this metric.
TIIM Social Individuals Provided with Clean Water Number of people Number of individuals provided with clean water as a result of the organization's activities during the reporting period.
TIIM Social Wastewater Treated Number of liters Amount of wastewater treated by the organization durring the reporting period that is derived from its productive processes. Organizations should footnote calculations and assumptions.
Housing/Community Facitilies IRIS ID: PI5965 Social Number of Housing Units Financed Number of housing units Number of housing units projected to be constructed or preserved as a result of investments made by the organization during the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI8007 Social Number of Community Facilities Financed Number of facilities Number of community development facilities projected to be built, renovated, or purchased as a result of investments made by the organization the during reporting period.
IRIS ID: P12640 Social Individuals Housed Number of people Number of individuals projected to be housed in single-family or multi-family dwellings as a result of new construction, loans, repairs, or remodeling resulting from investments made by the organization during the reporting period.
Cross Sector IRIS ID: OI8869 Social Permanent Employees: Total Number of people Number of people employed by the organization at the end of the reporting period. This is the sum of all paid full-time and part-time employees.
TIIM Social and/or Environmental Investment in Social and/or Environmental Businesses US $ Invested Amount invested in businesses that generate a social or environmental benefit.
IRIS ID: PI4060 Social Client Individuals: Total Number of people Number of unique individuals who were clients of the organization during the reporting period.
IRIS ID: PI8330 Social Client Individuals: Female Number of people Number of unique women who were clients of the organization during the reporting period.

Compare your metrics with those of your peers in the IRIS user registry.

Do you want to see how the metrics you’ve selected compare with those of your peers? Or, do you want to see some examples of which metrics peer organizations are using before you select your metrics?

The IRIS user registry lists the metric selected by more than 120 IRIS users. You can filter according to the user type that sounds most like you, narrow the list by regional focus, sectors, and social or environmental objectives, or look for a particular peer. There, you can find information about each registered user including their sectors of focus, social or environmental objectives, and the metrics they track. For example, you can browse the metrics sets used by fund managers that invest in education and the environment. Here’s a snapshot of the IRIS user registry and an example profile:

Browse endorsed metrics sets

Many impact investing field builders, including network organizations and rating systems developers, have endorsed a set of IRIS metrics that they consider important. If you are looking for metrics that meet stakeholder reporting requirements or you want to use a set of metrics that has been pre-selected by leaders in your sector or area of investment focus, you may want to first check one of these pre-fab metrics sets.

Recommended Metrics Sets: IRIS Metrics for Early-Stage Enterprises Endorsed by Toniic

Toniic is a global network of impact investors diverse in their sector and regional activities, but unified in their focus on investing in early-stage organizations. In order to create a shared framework for its members to use when collecting and reporting the impact performance of their investees, Toniic worked with its members to identify a set of five core cross-portfolio IRIS metrics and an additional set of sector-specific IRIS metrics.

Toniic recommended cross-portfolio IRIS metrics

IRIS Metric Metric ID IRIS Definition Toniic's Rationale for Inclusion
Client Individuals: Total IRIS ID: PI4060 Number of unique individuals who were clients of the organization during the reporting period. Measure the level of activity and the number of beneficiaries of the enterprise’s operations.
Jobs Maintained at Directly Supported/Financed Enterprises IRIS ID: PI5691 Number of full-time equivalent employees working for enterprises financed or supported by the organization at the time when the organization began its support/investment. Organizations should footnote the calculation assumptions, specifically the definition of full time work used when reporting against this metric. Monitor the relative size of the enterprise; growth in services; cost efficiencies. Depending on enterprise, demonstrates job growth for low-income populations.
Net Income IRIS ID: FP1301 Value of the organization's net profit, calculated as total income minus total expenses, taxes, and cost of goods sold during the reporting period. The enterprise's bottom line; useful in monitoring the level of philanthropic support over time.
New Investment Capital IRIS ID: FP8293 Value of funds invested in the organization (both loans and investments) during the reporting period. Monitor the level of activity in attracting new capital and investment to the enterprise, essential for growth and expansion.
Sales Revenue IRIS ID: FP1775 NValue of the revenue from sales of the organization's products/services during the reporting period. Monitor the financial well being of the enterprise and relative level of activity; estimate marginal costs. Indicative of the health of the organization and the social impact that it creates.

Toniic recommended sector specific IRIS metrics

Sector IRIS Metric Metric ID IRIS Definition
Agriculture Land Directly Controlled: Sustainably Managed IRIS ID: OI6912 Area of land, in hectares, directly controlled by the organization and under sustainable cultivation or sustainable stewardship. Report directly-controlled hectares sustainably managed at any point during the reporting period.
Education Student Transition Rate IRIS ID: PI4924 Percentage of students advancing from one level of schooling to the next.
Energy Energy Produced for Service Sale IRIS ID: PI8706 Energy produced and delivered to offtaker(s) during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote the energy type(s) and calculation assumptions used when reporting against this metric.
Greenhouse Gas Reductions due to Products Sold IRIS ID: PI5376 Amount of reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the lifetime of products sold during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote the energy types(s) and calculation assumptions used when reporting against this metric.
Environment Land Reforested IRIS ID: PI4907 Hectares of land that have been reforested by the organization during the reporting period.
Financial Services Effective Interest Rate (EIR) IRIS ID: PI7467 Effective interest rate (EIR) for the most representative loan product of the organization during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote the assumptions used when calculating this metric.
Healthcare and Water Water Produced for Service Sale: Potable IRIS ID: PI8043 Volume of potable water produced and delivered to offtaker(s) during the reporting period. Organizations should footnote the calculation assumptions used when reporting against this metric.
Small and Growing Business Full-Time Wages: Total IRIS ID: OI5887 Value of wages (including bonuses, excluding benefits) paid to all full-time employees of the organization during the reporting period.
Units/Volume Sold: Total IRIS ID: PI1263 Amount of the product/service sold by the organization during the reporting period.

A few other things to consider when choosing metrics.

Engaging your investees in the process (aka how not to overburden your investees)

Here’s a reality check: If your investees can’t actually produce the data that you request, all this work will be for nothing. And, if they don’t see value in tracking this data, the quality of the data may suffer since impact measurement won’t be seen as a core activity of their business. So, one of the most important things to keep in mind when choosing metrics is how practical and useful your metrics are for your investees. Any metrics you select should be relevant to your investees’ business models and goals, and take into account their operations and offerings. In other words, it may not make sense to ask an agricultural company to tell you how many tons of CO2 emissions their crop reduced since climate change mitigation is not core to their business model, and providing this information would likely require significant (and resource-intensive) learning.

Building an impact measurement program that works for you.

Of course impact measurement doesn’t stop once you’ve selected your IRIS metrics. Collecting and managing IRIS performance data will need to fit into your broader portfolio management activities. Organizations approach this differently. With regards to staffing, some rely on a centrally-managed team to support data collection, reporting, and analysis. Others use a more decentralized approach and make impact measurement part of everyone’s job. In terms of support tools, some use cutting edge data management and analytics technology, and others rely solely on Excel. To be successful in your impact measurement efforts, you will want to make upfront decisions about staff capacity and responsibilities, data system requirements, and budget considerations. Ultimately, the makeup of your program will depend on your unique organizational resources as well as the breadth and depth of your informational needs.

Goal setting.

You’ve heard a lot about choosing metrics based on your social or environmental objectives in this section. If you don’t have specific impact goals, don’t worry. However, if you want to base your metrics on your own social and environmental goals, but don’t know how, here are some additional resources to get you started.

For more resources, check out the appendix.

A note about reporting.

At this point, you have a clearer understanding about how to use IRIS (hooray!) and now you are starting to think about next steps. Chances are, at some point, you intend to share the performance data that you collect using your IRIS metrics.

What your report looks like—the format, the structure, the information and analyses you include—are up to you. But, there are a few basic things that you’ll want to incorporate to ensure that the report clearly communicates your use of IRIS metrics. These include:

  • Data that is consistent with IRIS metrics definitions
  • Appropriate citation of utilized IRIS metrics
  • Clear start and end dates—or reporting period—for the data

As you build out your own report, you can browse examples of existing impact reports that cite IRIS in the IRIS user registry here. Here's an example from Triodos Sustainable Trade Finance Fund:

The bottom line: Creating a metrics framework that uses IRIS

The metrics you select and how you report the resulting data will be unique to your organization, and should be based on what you deem relevant to your specific goals. IRIS is designed to cover multiple sectors because the impact investing field is diverse. As a result, no single IRIS user is expected to employ the full IRIS catalog, so don’t be overwhelmed by the number of metrics available. It’s ok to start an impact measurement program with five IRIS metrics or with fifty IRIS metrics—whatever works for you. If you focus your metrics on your data needs and organize them for your portfolio, you will discover that it’s easy to create a metrics set that makes sense for your portfolio.

To make it even easier to find metrics that are relevant to your goals, browse thematic lists of IRIS metrics, partner-endorsed metrics sets, and the IRIS user registry to find commonly-used metrics that may apply to you. But remember, these metrics should be relevant to you and to your investees. And before you ask your investees for their performance data, first determine how practical your metrics are for them so that you ensure an easy transition into data collection. Finally, if you are serious about collecting social and environmental performance data, it’s important you consider how your organization will support and manage these data collection activities with staff resources and relevant tools.

Appendix

Appendix 1: Directory of impact measurement toolkits

Organization Resource Description
Community Development Venture Capital Alliance (CDVCA) CDVCA Measuring Impact Toolkit A manual introducing a standard methodology for measuring the social impacts of developmental venture capital (VC) investing.
Results for Development CHMI A website, set of tools, and IRIS aligned metrics, built to inform and connect those who strive to improve the health of the world’s poor.
European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) EVPA Guide A comprehensive resource that distills best practices in impact measurement into five easy- to-understand steps and provides practical tips and recommendations for how to implement impact measurement at the level of the social investor and in the social sector organizations that they support.
World Resources Institute (WRI) GHG Protocol The most widely used international accounting tool to understand, quantify, and manage greenhouse gas emissions.
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) GRI Toolkit A variety of resources to help both starter and experienced reporters, including templates for a basic GRI report, the GRI Checklist and GRI Content Index.
Grameen PPI A poverty measurement tool for organizations and businesses with a mission to serve the poor.
Social Impact Analysts Association (SIAA) SIAA An association that connects and supports social impact analysts worldwide.
Social Performance Task Force (SPTF) SPTF Guide A set of tools to help organizations get started with social performance measurement.
SROI Network SROI Network Guide A step by step approach to completing an analysis of social return.
SVT Group SVT Library A list of publications about impact measurement and accounting.
Toniic Toniic E-Guide A guide that outlines some of the challenges and opportunities associated with the practice of impact measurement.
Foundation Center TRASI A database of over 150 tools, methods, and best practices in impact measurement.
World Business Council for Sustainable Development WBCSD Guide for Measuring Socio-Economic Impact A guide to support companies’ efforts to measure their socio-economic impacts.

Appendix 2: Directory of IRIS-aligned impact measurement tools and platforms

What is it? What are some examples? How does it work with IRIS? What does it do?
Analytics Platform The Microfinance Information Exchange (MIX) analytical platform, which uses the Social Performance Task Force indicators The MIX provides a dataset and analytics platform that covers the financial and social performance of microfinance institutions globally. IRIS includes many performance metrics that are used by the MIX.
  • Collects data on the performance of MFIs around the world
  • Provides a platform for benchmarking and analysis
GIIRS Analytics Platform GIIRS Analytics provides a platform for analyzing and comparing the performance of GIIRS-rated companies and funds. Users of GIIRS Analytics can see individual and aggregate performance data across all the IRIS metrics in the assessment.
  • Maintains verified and comparable data on the social and environmental impact of GIIRS-rated companies and funds
  • Provides a platform for benchmarking and analyses of these organizations.
microTracker, a FIELD initiative microTracker provides a dataset and analytics tool for assessing the performance of U.S. microenterprises. IRIS includes a core set of microTracker performance indicators
  • Maintains a set of core performance measures for U.S. microenterprise programs
  • Provides data collection and reporting and analysis tools
Data Management System UNPRI Principles for Investors in Inclusive Finance (PIIF) The PIIF outlines a set of principles for responsible investing in inclusive finance. IRIS usage is encouraged as part of the necessary actions for one of the Principles, which is focused on harmonizing standards for inclusive finance.
  • Provides a framework for responsible investment in inclusive finance
Network or Trade Association Standards The Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) metrics for small and growing businesses (SGBs) in developing markets ANDE is a network of organizations that support SGBs. It promotes IRIS metrics as a standard for its members, and encourages them to use a core set of IRIS metrics that ANDE has selected for measuring the performance of SGBs in developing markets.
  • Collects data from members for a set of common IRIS metrics
  • Provides aggregated analyses and reports to help the sector build understanding and improve performance
Rating System B Impact Assessment and GIIRS Impact Ratings The B Impact Assessment and GIIRS Impact Ratings leverage IRIS to generate its ratings. The assessments includes questions that are based on IRIS metrics as well as other additional criteria. As such, organizations that go through the B Impact Assessment or GIIRS rating process are required to provide data that are aligned with IRIS metrics.
  • Rates the social and environmental impact and practices (but not the financial performance) of companies and funds
Reporting Methodology/Framework Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST) Shared Impact Assessment and Measurement Toolbox (SIAMT) FAST helped develop a standardized set of IRIS performance metrics for investments in sustainable agriculture SMEs. This core set of IRIS metrics is used in SIAMT.
  • Provides a common framework for investors, financial institutions, and SMEs to monitor and report the social, financial, and environmental performance generated from financing activities in sustainable agriculture value chains.
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) GRI is a reporting framework focused on issues of corporate sustainability and citizenship. The framework provides guidance about which sustainability-related topics should be disclosed by organizations. IRIS metrics can be used to measure and report performance for many of the sustainability-related topics covered by the GRI framework.
  • Provides a framework for an organization to report on their sustainability practices
  • Includes reporting guidelines and specific indicators for areas such as an organization’s governance structure, labor practices, and environmental footprint.
Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI) The PPI assessment is a simple and accurate tool that measures poverty at the household level. IRIS helps standardize poverty metrics within the PPI
  • Provides a poverty measurement tool for organizations and businesses with a mission to serve the poor.
Valuation Methodology Social Return on Investment (SROI) The SROI method is a multi-step process for assessing the social value of a project. IRIS can be used during the metrics selection phase.
  • Provides a methodology for accounting for the social, environmental, and economic value of an organization’s outcomes

Appendix 3: IRIS Use Cases

IRIS Use Cases highlight key features of effective impact measurement programs of IRIS users.

Interamerican Development Bank - Opportunities for the Majority (OMJ)

OMJ restructured its impact measurement program across its grant and investment portfolio, putting IRIS metrics at the program’s foundation. The team uses an integrated metrics framework to gain insight into its portfolio’s overall performance.

Read the OMJ Use Case here.

ACCION - Frontier Investments Group

Frontier Investments uses IRIS as the pillar of its impact measurement program and actively monitors the performance of its portfolio companies through attendance at company board meetings and monthly Frontier Investments’ governance meetings.

Read the Accion Use Case here.

KL Felicitas

Using IRIS alongside its own proprietary qualitative and quantitative metrics, KLF evaluates both the social and environmental dimensions of each investment relative to its expected financial return, and then makes an investment decision appropriate for the foundation.

Read the KLF Use Case here.

New Ventures Mexico (NVM)

Business accelerators like NVM can incorporate impact measurement training and use of IRIS as a core part of their capacity-building curriculum. Adding this approach to its support services, NVM helps entrepreneurs manage business growth, attract investors, and capitalize on new market opportunities.

Read the New Ventures Mexico Case here.

Appendix 4: FAQs (and some other things you never thought to ask)

How much does it cost to use IRIS?

It costs absolutely nothing to use IRIS. It is free to search the catalog online, download the IRIS Excel file, and start using IRIS metrics. To support this free public good, users are encouraged to register their IRIS use on the IRIS user registry and to cite IRIS metrics in external reports and communications.

Is IRIS a rating system?

No, IRIS is a metrics catalog that helps you build an informed performance measurement system to measure your success and reduce mistakes that could affect your credibility.

Is there a template I am supposed to follow?

There is no “template” per se. There is no one “right” combination of metrics that every impact investor should or does track. IRIS is designed so that you can pick and choose from the catalog the standard metrics that are best suited to your needs and investment objectives.

Are IRIS metrics compatible with other standards?

IRIS metrics are aligned with widely-accepted standards promoted by many sector leaders and industry bodies, including the Global Reporting Initiative, the International Labor Organization, and the International Financial Reporting Standards among others. In addition to identifying and organizing the most useful and well-established metrics from across different sectors, the IRIS Initiative also collaborates with many different standards-setting bodies to help create more unity and coordination across these different efforts.

How do I cite IRIS in reports?

When citing IRIS metrics in public materials, including but not limited to impact performance reports, online dashboards, and other public analyses, clearly reference the IRIS metrics using the following style guidelines:

  • Reference String: IRIS, Year. (Metric ID) Metric Name. IRIS Version.
  • Reference Example: IRIS, 2011. (PI5920) Sales from Exports. v.2.2.

Include these references as footnotes, in a bibliography, appendix or reference index, or via other appropriate citations.

Who manages IRIS?

The IRIS initiative is manged by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN®), a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the scale and effectiveness of impact investing. The IRIS metrics catalog is maintained and updated with support from an advisory body composed of experts in impact measurement and other related areas. Metrics are considered for inclusion in IRIS through a rigorous process that involves input and consultation from a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, including IRIS users and the general public through an open comment period.

How are the IRIS metrics selected and updated?

An advisory body of leaders in the impact investing industry oversees the evolution of IRIS. The metrics are updated every two years through an iterative review process that involves objective consideration of recommendations and comments provided by various stakeholders. This enables the IRIS catalog to evolve in line with industry best practices, at the guidance of expert advisors, and as partner taxonomies are updated.

Because new iterations of IRIS always build on preceding versions, users can adopt IRIS immediately without concern. Most frequently, new metrics are added in subsequent versions. Any changes to existing metrics are adapted into IRIS only after extensive consultations with experts and users.

How do I provide feedback on the metrics?

The ultimate success of IRIS depends on feedback and suggestions from a great number of individuals. The IRIS website has been designed to allow visitors to provide comments about any of the existing metrics and also suggest new ones. Comments provided through the website will be reviewed and, where appropriate, posted to the website to allow additional discussion. These comments will also be considered in planning for future IRIS versions.

Additionally, feedback can be sent directly to the staff at the IRIS initiative at any time by emailing irisinfo@thegiin.org.