Case study 1 - Acumen

What is it?

Acumen is a non-profit global venture fund using an entrepreneurial approach to poverty reduction. It invests in early-stage companies that deliver affordable goods and services to improve the lives of the poor

Incubated within Acumen, Lean Data (now 60 Decibels) helps social enterprises more effectively listen to their customers so that they can build impact measurement and customer-centricity into business as usual.

Measurement approach

Lean data deploys a type of ‘mini survey’ (also known as micro or pulse surveys) to collect meaningful monitoring data that makes limited demands on respondent’s time and attention. To-date Acumen have conducted over 180 projects (many of which include multiple surveys) in more than 20 countries. Surveys take anywhere from as little as a couple minutes to an average of 7 minutes to administer – and usually ask between 10-20 questions.

The ‘lean’ approach to measurement is designed to generate rapid performance data that can help SMEs improve their business practices, products and services. It focuses on the ‘customer’ performance area. The Lean Data measurement ethos is designed to be aligned with the day-to-day reality of SMEs by being:

  • Bottom-up. Nurturing the habit of listening to customers in order to provide actionable insight on their needs and interests
  • Useful. Yielding data that is of sufficient quality to support decision-making
  • Iterative. Allowing for learning, adaptation, and replication
  • Light-touch. Using low-cost tools and technologies that require a minimal investment of time and money
  • Dynamic. Enabling rapid data collection within a fast-changing environment


Rather than using a standard set of indicators, Lean Data listens to businesses and customers themselves to collect metrics that are important for continuous improvement. A decision is then made on which type of survey to use. Off-the-shelf surveys are ready to go: They use tried-and-tested questions to gather valuable data as fast as possible. There’s no need for added survey design. Bespoke surveys adapt pre-designed questions to collect specific insights relevant to the business.

Example metrics include:

  • Level of customer satisfaction, using Net Promoter Score
  • Socio-economic profile of customers
  • Customer loyalty
  • Customer value proposition
  • A broad range of social outcomes

Data collection tools

Lean Data leverages technology to increase the speed and reduce the cost of data collection. Mobile surveys are commonly used. Enumerators either call customers on their mobile phone, or use an automated system such as Interactive voice response (IVR). Data can also be collected via SMS or online.

Example Survey Extracts: “Lean Data Core Insights”, an introductory survey the Lean Data team recommends new clients use to begin to better listen to their customers
  • For how many years have you been buying from [company]?
  • How did you first hear about [company]?
  • What motivated you to start buying from [company]?
  • Do you purchase [product] from anywhere else besides [company]?
  • In the past year, what kind of support related to [product] did you receive from [company]?
  • How you ever recommended [company] to a friend?
  • Imagine that you are giving a report card to [company], just like children get from school. What score would you give [company] from 0 to 10, where 0 is lowest and 10 highest?
  • Has your quality of life changed since you started buying from [company]?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Read more:

For all questions and enquiries about Lean Data, contact Tom Adams

Lean Data in action

In 2015 Acumen worked with Edubridge, a vocational training company that seeks to improve labour market outcomes for workers in India who are migrating from rural to urban areas. The company wanted to know the answer to a question critical to their theory of change: How do “successful” trainees—those who obtain and accept job placements immediately after they undergo Edubridge training—differ from trainees who don’t?

Acumen Lean Data conducted a phone-call-based survey of several discrete populations: people who had expressed an interest in Edubridge courses but had never signed up for one, people who had completed an Edubridge course but had not accepted a job offer that they had received afterward, and people who had both completed a course and accepted a job offer. The project took just four months (which is comparatively long, most Lean Data projects take 6-8 weeks). Existing Edubridge call center operators were trained by the Lean Data team and acted as enumerators, setting aside one hour of their time per day for survey calls. They completed 650 calls in all, and each call lasted seven to eight minutes.

The results provided rich insight into Edubridge outcomes. The theory of changed hypothesized that trainees with close friends in urban areas would be more likely to accept jobs than other trainees. That turned out to be true: Trainees who had friends in a city where a job was located were 21 percent more likely to take that job than trainees who didn’t have friends there. Another hypothesis was that trainees from higher-income families would be more likely to accept jobs than trainees from lower-income families. That turned out not to be true. Those who had accepted jobs were 8 percent poorer than those who had not. The company used data from the survey to shape their strategy as it expanded operations to more training centers.