Social Impact

Social impact framework service

Impact matters!  

  • If you don’t monitor your impact it can be difficult to understand if you are meeting your social aims. You may have a gut feeling that “we are making a difference” but do you know how much of a difference?  Could you be doing more or doing it better? 
  • Understanding social impact is a way to better manage your social enterprise or co-operative.  If all the processes you put in place are not producing the intended outcomes and impact then you need to explore where the value is “leaking”.   You could be pouring thousands of pounds of worker time, volunteer time or grant funding down the sink. And you can’t work out if you have a value “leak” if you don’t understand what outcomes or impact you are generating for all your hard efforts.
  • Your stakeholders better understand why your organisation is important and why they should support your work.
  • If you are seeking social investment you need to be able to demonstrate the social impact you are producing, either to access their finance in the first place or to justify why your organisation should be prioritised for grant, loan or equity support over another.

In my work with a number of co-operatives and social enterprises (including work on behalf of Co-op Culture, Cooperantics, South East Co-operative Support, Olmec and the Community Economic Development programme) I have developed an approach that groups enjoy and seems to produce sustainable outcomes.

Mindful of the international Social Value principles, which mirror good practice that I have used since the mid 2000s, I have broken down the process into stages or chunks.

While I am happy to deliver training on impact, I have found that most organisations really want dedicated focus on their activities and issues rather than a general introduction along with other groups.

I like to work with groups addressing their particular concerns and move them forward. This is how it works

1. Theory of Change - What’s the Story?

Working with your team (this could be Board members, staff, department etc) in a practical participatory workshop, we introduce the principles behind good social impact measurement – and develop an understanding of how to make impact measurement relevant and easy enough to do that it is likely to take place.

What social change and social impact are you creating, and what do you aim to create? During the session we map activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts.  Compare them to your organisational aims. Do they fit.  Prioritisation. There will always be lots of extra outcomes but do they really matter?  Are they happy side effects or are they core to what you are trying to achieve? What is really important?  Only measure what really matters!

We then end up with a “Theory of Change” (or “Impact Story”) which I turn into a diagram.

2.  Outcomes and Indicators – Proving it!

Once we have identified the priorities for measurement we need to explore the best indicators to use to demonstrate the impact being generated.  First, it is a good opportunity to revisit the outcomes that have been identified.  Could they be rephrased?   Do they make sense to stakeholders? In preparation for this session, I would identify some “best fit” outcomes and indicators* which help demonstrate those outcomes.  Then we work through together identifying which of the indicators would produce useful information. At the same time we explore how we could practically collect these indicators.  The lesson of experience is that impact measurement is more likely to be sustained if it is part of the everyday life of the organisation.  This may influence our choice of indicators!  Can we mesh them into existing systems (e.g. your finance records) or do we need to develop some extra activities to gather feedback or demonstrate?  Working collaboratively means we combine your knowledge of your organisation and what happens on a day-to-day basis alongside an objective, experienced view of impact measurement.

*There is a peer-reviewed set of outcomes and indicators available from Big Society Capital that I would recommend using.  As they are used widely it means that potential investors or funders will understand and recognise the language.    However, there are often more specific outcomes or indicators that matter to your members or stakeholders that we should include.

These 2 stages of the process can either be run separately, or on the same day with some preparation time.

3.  Reporting – Telling the World!

Analysing the work from the collaborative sessions, I produce a recommendation for how best to collect and report the indicators that have been agreed.  This is reviewed by your key people as a “reality check” to make sure it is achievable.  Then all the work that has been carried out is gathered into a document setting out your impact reporting framework.

Optional added extras include:

  • example social impact report
  • a template to automatically generate a social impact report when you enter data
  • piloting measurement with your team
  • an independent audit of your social impact report once it has been completed

What does it cost?
Depending on your budget you can opt to buy the whole framework service or constituent parts of it (e.g. we work together to develop the Theory of Change and then you develop the rest, or you present me with the outcomes you would like measured and I support you to develop appropriate measurement and reporting processes).

The price can vary depending on how much you as an organisation will do and how much you need me to do – I can be the “invisible hand” that guides or mentors you or I can be the consultant that comes back with the completed work – but I will always involve you in key decisions as it is your organisation!

Alternatively if you are a network or group of co-operatives/social enterprises I can deliver an introductory training workshop.

Get in touch for a chat about your needs and your budget and we'll see how I can help!

What clients have said

“Before you provided the measures it was like staring at a forest”
“Remarkably reassuring”

More background on social impact

Social Accounting is the process by which social enterprises can demonstrate how they are meeting their social purpose and making a difference.

I have worked with tens of social enterprises to help them explore how they produce social impact and can demonstrate the difference they make so here's some starters.

All organisations have inputs - whether it is volunteer time or money spent on processes or wages.  Time and money tend to be the most common inputs although goodwill can be a vital ingredient.

The enterprise uses the inputs to carry out its activity.  This is what it does. ask yourself "what do we actually do?"  It may be the application of a process, the creation of a product or service, or the deployment of people.

The activity results in outputs, tangible and measurable, which it is easy to show have arisen directly as a result of the activity.  E.g. Number of people trained, number of training courses delivered.

The outputs themselves lead to outcomes. They are less easy to directly prove arose from the activity but their is often a link.  They may or may not be easily measured. For example, as a result of training received, someone may get a job.  The job was not sourced directly by your enterprise but the person's ability to put in a successful application was improved by the training they received.

Impact represents the difference made to society or the world at large. An example would be a reduction in worklessness, or a reduction in benefits drawn down by people.  The direct link is sometimes less easy to show and in some cases it may be difficult to measure.

What to report? Face it, people like numbers.  They can compare them with other organisations' numbers - even though the environmental factors (e.g. literacy of participants) mean that there is often no such thing as a fair comparison.

Ultimately the question of "What to report?" is partially answered by considering who will read your reports.  Which stakeholders will read your report?  Will you have different reports for different stakeholders?  All things to consider!