Social Impact Measurement

Sally Kelly, The Guild Social Economy Services CIC

SOCIAL IMPACT MEASUREMENT

What is social impact measurement?
According to a Social Enterprise East of England (SEEE) booklet on ‘Measuring making a difference’, social impact measurement is the process of providing ‘evidence that your organisation - whether it is a social enterprise, voluntary or community organisation or traditional business - is doing something that provides a real and tangible benefit to other people or the environment.’

Why measure impact?
People who work in voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises every day may be able to see with their own eyes the real and tangible benefit created by the work their organisation carries out. But there are two reasons why it might be a good idea to try to measure the extent of this social impact in more detail:

a) A move towards measuring social impact can help you to build on the things you are doing well and to learn from the challenges you have faced. This feeds into good practice and means the organisation will learn and improve.

b) There are funding and contract opportunities out there for voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises, but the people who buy in services or provide funding need to know that working with your organisation will provide a social benefit. Just as financial accounts prove the viability of a business, social impact measurement can show a robust and rigorous approach to providing community or environmental benefits.

Why are there so many tools and methods to choose from?
One of the key findings of recent social impact measurement research from New Philanthropy Capital was that the challenge for organisations is in identifying what method is suitable for them.

The simple answer to why there are so many tools and methods available is that there is no one option that is suitable for everyone. The way you measure impact will depend on the size, capacity, activities and focus of your organisation. There are activities and guides that can help you to think about the factors you need to take into consideration when choosing how to measure impact.

TALKING ABOUT TOOLS AND METHODS – SOME COMMON TERMS

What is an impact measurement framework?
The activities an organisation carries out can have long-term effects on beneficiaries, beneficiaries’ families and the broader community. Social impact measurement seeks to identify and quantify this impact. An impact measurement framework provides the structure for assessing all aspects of an organisation’s impact. Within that framework, more than one tool or method can be used to collect information. The information needed to inform social impact measurement may include data from your monitoring and evaluation systems, quality systems, impact tools and toolkits and outcome-focused tools.

What is the difference between outcomes and outputs?
Outputs are easy to count because there is a clear point in time when they have either happened or not. For example, training participants have either completed a course or not; five hundred awareness-raising leaflets have been mailed out, or they haven’t. Outcomes go deeper and describe progress over time. The desired outcome of completing training is the improved knowledge and skills participants take away that will make a difference to their lives and the lives of others. The desired outcome of mailing out leaflets is that by reading them people will become more aware of the issue at hand. There has been a move towards measuring outcomes as well as outputs to give a clearer picture of what value organisations and projects create.

What are outcome tools?
Outcome tools are used to measure and record the progress a beneficiary makes and pinpoint areas of future need. They make it possible to assess the changes made in a consistent and standardised way. Outcome tools provide information that can be drawn together to give an overview of the change achieved by a service or a project. They are therefore a key part of the impact measurement process.

What are quality management systems?
Quality management systems, often shortened to ‘quality systems’, are about processes. They focus on how things are done.  They look at how an organisation is run, how staff are managed and customer care.  A set of standards are defined and used to gauge areas for improvement.  An organisation can assess itself or can buy in the services of an external assessor.  External assessment is often needed to gain a quality mark. Some quality systems focus on how activities are carried out, others also require evidence about the results of these activities. This evidence requirement would have the additional benefit of providing information for an impact measurement.

What are monitoring and evaluation systems?
Monitoring is about collecting information in a planned and regular way. Evaluation is about using that information to gauge how well the project is doing. Monitoring and evaluation systems will tell you what information to collect, when to collect it and who will collect it. This information can provide the proof that a quality standard has been met or support social impact measurement. 

Why does this matter?
In our current economic climate we are being asked to assess the cost-benefit of spending money on welfare, community care, health services, youth services etc. with the intention of reducing overall costs.  What may be more important is how the social impact of the spending in these areas might evidence savings in other more costly areas of provision i.e. hospitalisation, acute services, policing and prisons.

 

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