Defining and evaluating social outcomes is not always straightforward. The growing movement away from measuring inputs and outputs, towards measuring outcomes, brings many challenges. Social service providers constantly battle with issues of attribution (was it us that made this change?); externalities (did some other external affect or group make this change?); isolation (did the change happen by itself, or as a knock-on effect to something else?); and much more.
There are numerous circumstances in which social impact measurement is required and each call for a different level of rigour and complexity:
- social enterprises and not-for-profits defining their impact for funders and the general public
- government and service providers defining and measuring outcomes for payment by outcome and social impact bonds
- social and environmental enterprises measuring social impact for investors
- businesses measuring impact for certification purposes such as B-corp
- businesses and corporates measuring their internal social and environmental impact, for instance to meet environmental, social, and governance reporting standards
A great deal of work has been done on both outcomes measurement, and evaluating the social impact performance of enterprises and organisations. Some of the key organisations are included below.
- SIMNA is the social impact measurement network in Australia. SIMNA runs public events and offers support to its members.
- The SROI Network and Social Impact Analysts Association are now joining forces to create Social Value International. Social Return on Investment (SROI) provides an internal process for providing clarity on how effectively impact is being created. It tends to focus on the dollar value of impact created, compared to the dollar value invested in the program (ie. a cost/benefit analysis of sorts). As an internal reference, it generally cannot be used for comparative purposes.
- iPAR Impact is a new tool launched in April 2016 which allows impact investors to compare social and environmental impact across their portfolios.
- The Global Impact Investment Network (GIIN) has developed the Impact Reporting Investment Standard (IRIS) and allows funds and enterprises to adopt a standard set of performance measures, using shared vocabulary. The Global Impact Investment Reporting System (GIIRS) offers an added layer of analysis for assessing social and environmental impact.
- The Impact Investment Exchange launched the world’s first publicly listed social stock exchange, Impact Exchange in June 2013. This includes a social enterprise listing process which will define and track social impact.
- Over 20,000 enterprises have engaged with the B Impact Assessment to benchmark social and environmental performance, including large companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Etsy, and Patagonia. US-based Case Foundation partnered with B Lab to launch the ‘Measure What Matters’ initiative in March 2015.
- The Results Based Accountability (RBA) approach tracks progress against population-level outcomes and baselines. RBA encourages organisations to view their work in the context of the wider system. Many local governments, particularly in the US, have adopted the framework
What to Read
Australian Examples to Learn From
- Calum Scott at Opportunity International has developed a social performance report on their work in micro-finance and support services to borrowers around the world.
- Uniting Care Queensland has released a support produced in partnership with Deloitte Access Economics to quantify the economic and social impact of their work.
Social Outcomes has assisted numerous clients in established social impact frameworks and/or measuring their impact. Having worked across dozens of different social and environmental issues, we have learnt the importance of tailoring our approach for each context and client. This allows us to take the best models and lessons from various methodologies and combine them in the most appropriate way. If you you would like to know more about our impact measurement and evaluation work, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org