Empathy is increasingly being recognised by social and cultural thought leaders as a vital tool for social change. Over the last decade, and in the last 2-3 years in particular, there has been a surge in the number of organisations and projects – notably across Australia, the UK, the US and Canada – dedicated to growing empathy. A common theme of this work is the role of empathy not only in individual wellbeing and behaviour, but critically, on the question of what empathy might mean on a collective scale, as applied across communities, in policy-making and in social institutions.
A collective empathy deficit is uncovered as a root cause of the spectrum of societies’ most pressing social issues, including social cohesion, exclusion and inequality. There exist several psychological tools for measuring the level, and changes in levels, of empathy in individuals. However, as a pioneering social change strategy, the sector lacks a comprehensive measurement framework to measure and demonstrate the tangible, often long-term social and cultural impact of empathy-based projects, beyond individual change. There is a need to develop a shared empathy measurement framework to ensure project rigour and impact, buy-in from key investor, community and government stakeholders, and ultimately amplify the social impact of the empathy movement.
Students developed a first-of-its-kind empathy measurement framework. This involved mapping the concept of empathy and mapping key actors in the empathy space; interviewing leading empathy practitioners on key measurement challenges and practices; conducting research on comparable measurement frameworks (including in the areas of happiness and wellbeing); and critically analysing and synthesising the research and interviews to develop the measurement framework.