© Mbortolino / iStock
© Mbortolino / iStock

This is a variation of a post I first published in May 2020, which has proved popular. This version was also shared in January 2021 with an evaluator’s forum in South West England that has a health focus – so the timing was rather perfect….

In case you missed it, in September 2020 the UK Government published a new model for social value in procurement that will assess the social impact of organisations wishing to bid for central government contracts. This guidance comes into force from January 2021 and while it is only for central government contracts, this approach is likely to gain traction across more public sector and third sector procurement. 

So why am I telling you this? As evaluators, academics and voluntary sector professionals, we need to understand the pressures and requirements placed on our organisations, or our client organisations. We need to help our organisations track, understand and demonstrate their social impact. Health and Care Commissioners and service managers are more likely now to want to understand impact or outcome-level performance in order to assess how effective a grant has been or is likely to be.

If generating evidence for commissioners and funders isn’t a strong enough motive, then you will want to know that developing a social impact measurement plan is important for three more reasons:

  • It allows you to test your ideas and plan: are the predictions for change accurate and the interventions / projects effective? What changes need to be made?
  • Annual social impact reports are as important as annual financial accounts, especially for funders. This means that measuring social impact from the beginning is as important as putting in place all other fundamentals, like keeping accurate financial records
  • Collecting rich and varied data will help you to tell a compelling story about your work, based on statistics and case studies that can inspire others to become involved.

So how do you get started?

There are 5 things to think about when starting out on measuring social impact:

  1. What outcomes are you planning to deliver and which do you need to measure – how important are your outcomes to your stakeholders (or the planet, if its environmental work)? Start with your stakeholders: what do you know about them, why would they participate in your work, what motivates them and how does your work meet their needs.
  2. How much of the change that you want to contribute towards will happen during the funded period or investment period? Social impact change can take a long time, sometimes up to 20 years or more. Understanding what change might actually take place in five years or three years will allow you to manage your stakeholders’ expectations, your funder/investors’ expectations and your own expectations.  Understanding the change that could take place will also inform the outcome measures that you choose, so that they are meaningful to those stakeholders and can act as proxy measures for longer term impact.
  3. Who experiences the change, and to what degree? Going back to your stakeholders: what change will each stakeholder group expect to experience (if at all) and how much?
  4. How much of the change that you want to contribute towards can you actually claim as a result of your work? Similar to point 2 above, not all of the change that your stakeholders experience may be linked to your work. No matter how involved or loyal stakeholders are to your work, they will experience influences from other sources. So think about what would have happened anyway and deduct that from the change you think you can achieve. 
  5. What material risk factors are there? In the context of social impact measurement, risk factors include principles, purpose, outputs, outcomes and impact classifications.  It is important to manage the probability that the activities undertaken by an organisation do not result in the outputs or outcomes that are planned, or that the impact that the organisation says that it wants to achieve (either at a project or programme level or at an organisation level) is not aligned to its legal or stated purpose, or results in unintended negative consequences.  For example, an organisation that I conducted an SROI for was so focused on stigma reduction that it had not realised that by keeping family units together and giving them better knowledge and understanding, its work was contributing towards increased household costs and short-term poverty. Understanding how well your business model is aligned to your mission or purpose and the quality of your data will influence levels of social impact risk.

(You can find out more about these five points at https://impactmanagementproject.com and you might also want to check out https://www.betterevaluation.org that has a huge number of resources and advice)

There is a whole toolbox for measuring and defining social impact, including SROITheory of ChangeLog Framesevaluation methodologies, etc. At different stages different tools will be useful. Your measurement plan should consider when and how to use tools that are appropriate to your mission and your plan.

It really is worth putting the time in to design a social impact measurement plan: not only will commissioners, service managers and funders be able to use the data arising from the measurement plan, so will you, your team and organisation. The data will be available to be used to inform day-to-day decisions and design / development decisions – making your organisation even more effective.    

What are some of the successes you have had when doing social impact measurement? What are the top three barriers you constantly come across – and how do you get around them?


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