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How to measure social impact

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One of the key concepts in approaching social impact assessment theory and practice is the difference between frameworks and tools. Frameworks provide an overarching strategy for organising the approach to impact assessment, whereas tools are designed around specific activities.

The three methods presented here are frameworks, subsequently providing ‘scaffolding’ on which to build social impact assessment approaches. Tools specific to the work and organisation will sit within the framework, resourcing various data gathering and analysis needs.

Developments in the UK have led to agreement between the Social Accounting and Audit (SAA) Network and the Social Reform on Investment (SROI) Network on some core principles. All but one of the seven identified principles are now common to the two frameworks. These are: stakeholders’ perceptions, scope and materiality, understand change, comparative, transparency, and verification. The seventh principle are relates to the use of financial proxies and monetisation of value and is unique to the SROI approach.

Social Accounting and Audit

SAA builds on an organisation’s existing systems and develops a process for accounting for social, environmental and economic impacts, reporting on performance and drawing up an action plan to improve on that performance. Through the SAA process the organisation can understand its impact on the surrounding community and on its beneficiaries, and build accountability by engaging with its key stakeholders. In this way it can prove its value and improve its performance. Following the compilation of the social accounts the organisation may choose to have them audited by a social audit panel. The panel’s role is to independently verify the social accounts and their evidence trail.

Social Return on Investment

SROI is an approach to understanding and managing the impacts of a project, organisation or policy on stakeholders. It is an impact measurement tool used to place a financial worth on the social value that an organisation creates through its activities, outputs and outcomes. Whilst SROI generates a ratio of dollars spent to dollars saved at its core, it assesses method as well as result. Organisations must understand the value created, manage it and prove it.

In conjunction with the UK and Scottish Governments, SROI oversaw the release of a new user friendly guide which broadens the SROI approach on the process and can be downloaded from the website.

Logic Frame

A logic model is a systematic and visual way to present and share an understanding of the relationships among the resources available to operate a program, the planned activities, and the changes or results sought. The logic model groups work into four categories or steps: inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes. These represent the logical flow from:

* Inputs (resources such as money, employees, and equipment) to
* Work activities, programs or
processes, to
* The immediate outputs of the work that are delivered to customers, to
* Outcomes or results that are the long-term consequences of delivering outputs.

The logic model facilitates effective program planning, implementation, and evaluation, the most basic of which uses words and/or pictures to describe the relationship between activities thought to bring about change and the results the program is expected to achieve.

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