“We take our work seriously, but not ourselves.” That statement is among the unofficial mottos of The Center for Global Development (CGD). Building on that motto and the occasion of its 12th birthday, the Center recently published some reflections on the lessons it has learned in “building a think-and-do tank.” The result is seriously interesting and well worth a read.

Among those lessons – many of which are relevant to organizations across the social sector – are “don’t plan; experiment” and “celebrate and try to measure success.” As the authors explain, expected return estimates are one tool the Center uses to put those lessons into practice (emphasis added):

“In the past couple of years, we have experimented with more formal measures for assessing our impacts and influence. One of these is the Expected Return (ER) tracker, developed with the Redstone Strategy Group. The ER tracker, a rate-of-return estimator adapted specifically for policy research, is a set of questions that helps our researchers identify project objectives, metrics of benefit, likelihood of success, attributions, and costs. The result is a color-coded scorecard that gives researchers a snapshot of CGD’s role in addressing a specific issue, as well as potential allies, obstacles, and a rough rate of return. When starting a new project, researchers can use the ER tracker to think through where to expend effort to bring their ideas to reality. Later they can revisit and revise their scores to assess progress along the way. Use of the ER tracker is voluntary and not onerous: the questionnaire is available on our intranet, and the entire exercise takes about 15 minutes.”

Read the whole report here.