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Aaron Horvath: civil society and the limits of measurement

In this episode we talk to Aaron Horvath, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy & Civil Society, about his research on how nonprofits responded in an unexpected way to new regulatory reporting demands – going well above and beyond what was expected of them.


  • What is the notion of “supererogation” and how is it applied in this research to analyse the response of nonprofits to new accountability demands?
  • Why did nonprofits choose to report more than was asked of them?
  • Are there any risks involved in doing so?
  • What form does supererogation take? Is it primarily narrative (i.e. nonprofits adding contextual written information to “tell their story”) or do they also create alternative quantitative measures?
  • Is supererogation with respect to external measures a demonstration of empowerment, or does it reflect disempowerment?
  • Why has there been an increased emphasis on measurement and metrics in the nonprofit world?
  • Is there a danger that external metrics reinforce the tendency for nonprofits to see themselves as accountable to regulators, funders or donors, rather than to their recipients?
  • Do rankings and ratings lead to a greater degree of homogeneity in the nonprofit world?
  • Is the desire to have metrics that can be applied equally to all CSOs regardless of cause area fundamentally misguided?
  • If there are elements of value in the work of civil society that we cannot capture in any of our current measurement systems, do we need to find better ways of measuring, or give up on the idea that everything is measurable?
  • Has the tide turned against metrics and impact measurement in the nonprofit world in recent years? If so, why?
  • Why have LLCs become popular among certain groups of elite donors? Should we believe the narratives about a greater desire for flexibility, or be sceptical about whether it is driven more by a desire to bypass mimimal transparency and accountability requirements?
  • Do LLCs undermine the “Grand Bargain”, in which the power to influence through philanthropy is balanced by accountability to wider society? Was this Grand Bargain actually functioning in practice anyway?

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