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Social Impact & why measure it?

SIA is often carried out as part of, or in addition to, environmental impact assessment (EIA), but it has not yet been as widely adopted as EIA in formal planning systems, often playing a minor role in combined environmental and social assessments.

As to standard definition “Social impact assessment includes the processes of analysing, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences, both positive and negative, of planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, projects) and any social change processes invoked by those interventions. Its primary purpose is to bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment.”

We take the view that every social enterprise and voluntary organisation from the smallest to the largest can be measuring their social impact. Long gone are the days when just saying that we were doing a ‘good thing’ would secure any funding. Today, quite rightly, funder and investors want to know that the investment they make is going to be making a real difference.

There has been a lot of discussion over the last few years about measuring the social impact that social enterprises and other Third Sector organisations are making. Funders, government, investors and corporate bodies are interested in making sure their investments have the greatest impact possible and are looking for ways to measure this. But this is not the only reason why it is good to measure our social impact. The real benefits from this process are those that are created for the organisation itself – not the funders that support it.

If we, in the sector, found a way to tell the whole story of the impact we are having – not just a series of numbers about how many people walked through our doors – we would have an incredibly powerful tool that would:

-enable us to improve our credibility and encourage people to believe what we say

-inspire and motivate our staff and volunteers

-encourage us to continuously improve our services

-communicate to other stakeholders about the work done

-form the basis of effective and powerful publicity materials, funding applications and press releases.

This is the real power of measuring our social impact – enabling us to market our organisations, inspire our staff and volunteers and attract more funding and investment.

At The Tool Factory we work with organisations of all sizes from the smallest community groups, to the largest of national organisations, from pre-start ups to well-established charities that have decades of stories to tell. We believe that each one of these organisations can be measuring their social impact – however small or new they are.

Different sizes and types of organisation projects will require different tools. However, if we take the approach that as an organisation grows and develops it can build additional complexity into the social impact measurement system that it is using to meet its new needs as a larger, more developed organisation. For example, a small local social enterprise may find the SROI (Social Return on Investment) tool is not appropriate at the current time. But if they introduce a Social Accounting model now, then when they grow and become more sophisticated as an organisation they can build on the model they are already using and introduce the additional concepts of the SROI approach.

For small organisations we often suggest that they start by measuring just one indicator – maybe related to one activity they are running; just to get them started. Once the organisation is used to this they can then add more indicators and grow their social impact measurement model.

In fact, if we can encourage all new organisations to build social impact measurement into their organisations right from the very start we will, over time, have a sector in which social impact measurement and reporting is the norm. Let’s just get every organisation started on doing some level of social impact measurement – we can build on it from there.

–  Anisha Bhatia

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