Each month we keep an eye on key trends and words appearing across the UK press in relation to a mixture of topics. This month we decided to take a look at ‘Social Impact’ specifically in terms of ‘Social Impact Measurement’.
In the last month we found that the following words have come up consistently.
people, opportunities, report, positive impact, social impact, social behavior, young people
We thought we’d pick 3 of these and turn to our social impact subject matter expert Dave Masom with some questions related to each and get his thoughts, insights and tips.
What do you think would be the Top 3 ‘opportunities’ for social enterprise and charity organisations in terms of social impact measurement activity?
1. Determine the playing field
The social impact measurement field is still in its infancy but is becoming more important to commissioners, investors and other key stakeholders. This shift is a response to an increasing need to demonstrate how charities and social enterprises are delivering on their social missions; it is no longer enough to ‘wish to do good’. So how is this an opportunity? Those organisations that embrace social impact measurement now will have the opportunity to shape what is measured and how. For those that don’t, the danger is that measurements will be decided for them and they may struggle to demonstrate the value they deliver in the future.
2. Decreasing cost
There are a number of reasons I think the cost of social impact measurement will decrease over time. The first is that an increasing number of organisations are developing standard tools and measures for social impact measurement. These are increasingly being provided for free and are intuitive and in ‘plain English’. The second reason is that there has recently been increasing dissatisfaction with what has been dubbed the ‘consulting industry’ surrounding social impact measurement. In response, organisations including CAN Invest are actively looking to develop low cost products which put social impact measurement within the reach of all social enterprises and charities. The best approaches also incorporate a focus on improving internal capability of orgainsations so that they can measure their own impact in the future. Both these trends should see social impact measurement becoming cheaper for organizations to implement.
In point 1 above I referred to funders or commissioners and their increasing focus on social impact measurement. One reason for this interest is the shift to paying for outcomes and results rather than just activities and outputs. Although this is often viewed as a challenge for organisations it’s also an opportunity as it allows organisations to innovate and focus on delivering outcomes rather than an specific services. Often, this type of message is given when people talk about Social Impact Bonds – but the same is often true of simpler products like loans. Because the investor will be getting their money back, they often attach less restrictions to their money than grant funders will. But the key point is that to take advantage of this, organisations must be able to evidence the outcomes they deliver.
What is the relationship between ‘social impact’ and ‘young people’?
When discussing social impact or social value, you must also consider ‘social need’, and who the social value is for. These issues are particularly topical at the moment as government is looking to do more with less. There is increasing emphasis on tackling issues early on to prevent longer term more entrenched issues that are far more costly to manage. These so-called ‘early interventions’ are seen as win-win initiatives as it reduces cost and drain on resources in future years and more importantly provides young people with a better quality of life by helping them onto the right path early on.
I’m looking forward to seeing an increasing exposure for Social Enterprises that are working with young people with the objective of securing long term change for these individuals and helping them get a good start in life. It makes a lot more sense than managing issues further down the line that are a far bigger burden on resources.
We’re working on an exciting project in this space at the moment and will be sharing details very soon so keep checking back!
Talk us through 3 examples of how organisations who implement social impact measurement are able to create greater ‘positive impact’
1. Informing strategic and operational decisions to maximize impact
For organisations that deliver a number of different activities, being able to understand the relative value and impact each activity generates allows decision-makers to direct resources to where they are most needed, and therefore maximize the impact delivered with their resources. Such informed decisions are only possible with robust and meaningful impact data.
2. Understanding the wider context/environment of change that the organisation operates in
A core tool in social impact measurement is ‘Theory of Change’. This enables organisations to map how they deliver their outcomes and overall impact. From this map they can identify the key outcomes required to achieve their intended impact, and whether it is most effective for them or another organisation to deliver this outcome. Organisations never work in silos: typically their beneficiaries will also come into contact with many other services. In an ideal world, organisations will therefore work together in delivery rather than competing to deliver the same outcomes. Theories of Change can be a good starting point for this conversation, providing a common language around impact and allowing each organization in a network to focus their resources on the outcomes they are best placed to deliver.
This is especially important when working with individuals with long-term, entrenched issues that need a collective effort to help them.
3. Awareness and management of negative outcomes
To truly maximize positive impact you also need to ensure you’re managing and mitigating any negative outcomes you may have. Here it is important to look beyond the immediate activity of the organisation and ask ‘are their any unintended consequences of our work?’ Sometimes these will be in areas of impact that are not your prime focus (e.g. environmental effects if you are interested in job creation), but in other cases the positive impact you are having may be negated elsewhere (for example, by reducing crime in one borough you increase crime in a neighbouring borough as the criminals you were targeting have just relocated). Impact measurement is not just about collating evidence of the positive outcomes you achieve, but also about identifying any negative or unintended consequences and taking steps to ensure these do not compromise or reduce your overall impact.