The Impact Garden

Written by
Jannik Kaiser
Carla Moschner
June 19, 2024


Most of us have an intuitive sense of the underlying conditions needed to make our work successful and impactful long-term. It’s about trust and compassion, enabling others, creating collaborative spaces, and building momentum. 

And then there’s impact evaluation. Creating logic models, formulating indicators and surveys, and chasing people to respond. For some reason, we often throw our intuition and holistic thinking overboard when it comes to metrics and measurement. Or, to use a nature metaphor: we start counting apples, leaving out the soil in which the apple tree grows. 

Don’t worry!

We are on a mission to approach measurement and (impact) evaluation as a regenerative practice, so that it gives more energy than it takes, and provides meaningful insights to all actors involved. 

With the Impact Garden model we have developed a Theory of Change, a map that enables you to anchor into your evaluation practice a holistic approach open to learning. 

To jump ahead: download the Impact Garden handout below and get your hands dirty. 

The “Why” of the Impact Garden

Rooted in a regenerative approach to measurement and evaluation, Unity Effect’s Impact Garden model draws on the metaphor of living systems and nature. Rather than counting apples, the model seeks to understand the soil and ecosystem in which the apple trees grow, and how additional resources might support their cycle of growing healthy and tasty fruits over a sustained period. 

This sets it apart from other frameworks and measurement designs, such as conventional logframes and Theories of Change (ToC), which are often based on linear metaphors and mental models. Such an “A leads to B” model might be a first step for an organisation to make sense of its impact, yet is often incapable of accounting for complex dynamics and unforeseen developments. This, in turn, can quickly lead to a dynamic of needing to prove one’s impact and the logic of one’s change model, rather than being open to learning and aiming to understand the (frequently invisible) conditions that lead (or don’t) to change. 

The core idea of the Impact Garden is to understand and measure these conditions for systemic change, and to consider how to best contribute to it with one’s available resources. 

The model

The following chart shows the overall model as it has been used in our workshops and in projects with partners and clients: 

In our analogy with a natural ecosystem (above), the Impact Garden’s different elements comprise: 

  • Resources (own and from others): The raw ingredients that you and others have at hand and are willing to invest (into a project, to solve a challenge, etc.).
  • Supportive conditions: How you package and provide the resources to others.
  • Meaningful interactions: How people interact with the supportive conditions – the “packages” – you are providing.
  • Long-term changes: Differences and dynamics that can be observed after a longer period of time. You can define what “longer” means (e.g. 6 months, 1 year, 3 years) and also add multiple layers for different time horizons.
  • Vision / north star: A desired state in the future that you wish to contribute to.
  • Learning and feedback loops: Balancing dynamic to the attribution pathways: Seeking to understand what the visible changes say about the supportive conditions.

Throughout this article, “meaningful interactions” and “long-term changes” are sometimes combined and referred to as “visible changes”. 

Other aspects to consider in relation to the Impact Garden are that:

  • It asks for a mixed-methods approach that captures both specific aspects you want to look at and changes you were not anticipating. 
  • It’s a circular approach (see “learning and feedback loops”), which entails the regular assessment of interdependencies. This might, for example, reveal that certain conditions you thought of as supportive are not, or that a visible change (e.g. trust among actors) becomes a supportive condition. 
  • Attribution pathways, as a central component, identify correlations between the supportive conditions and visible changes, or different kinds of visible changes. Examples include tracking the outcomes linked to funding support or a program, or seeking to understand how creating awareness of a topic leads to behaviour change.  


The best way to work with the Impact Garden is to just try it out. This can be as easy as taking pen and paper, making a sketch of the model, gifting yourself inner and outer calmness, setting a timer (e.g. to 10 minutes), and starting to fill out the different parts of the model (resources, conditions, changes, etc.) for a project or idea of yours by writing or drawing. 

You can also use the Impact Garden by engaging your team and embedding it into your work, e .g.

  • in a workshop, 
  • as a Theory of Change, or 
  • for strategy development and goal-setting. 

Download our Impact Garden handout below to learn more about these applications and how to put them into practice within your own work context.

Or watch the video for further insights and guidance in applying the model. 

What we have to offer

The Impact Garden invites us to rethink and reimagine measurement and (impact) evaluation. We’d be delighted to support you on that journey, for example through: 

  • facilitating an introductory workshop in your team or organisation, 
  • supporting your internal capacity development for regenerative evaluation, 
  • sharing our sample surveys and further resources to deepen your data collection efforts in a regenerative way, 
  • being the experts at your side for funding or grant applications – embedding evaluation and holistic learning in a persuasive way. 

Wondering how this could look in action? 

Have a look at our work on Regenerative Measurement & Evaluation, check out our case studies with the Kofi Annan Foundation and our own Purpose Journey, and of course, reach out to us! 

Engage with us

We'd love to hear about your experience with the Impact Garden. Please don't hesitate to reach out with any questions, thoughts and ideas in the following ways:

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About the author
Co-founder of Unity Effect. Striving to capture the depths and intricacies of social change, and how to shape it. Having a soft spot for complexity science, impact evaluation and cat videos.
About the author
Lead on PR and team well-being at Unity Effect. Aspiring socio-ecological change through embodied learning spaces, deep connection, and the power of poetry.
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