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Delivering a Social Return On Investment Impact Evaluation

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If you want to quantify the social impact of your work, but don’t know how to start, this guide is for you. It dives into the process of measuring Social Return on Investment (SROI) and why it is a crucial component of measuring your organisation’s social impact. This guide is prepared by Social Value Lab, a part of the CEIS group.

In our last blog, we outlined the difference between social value and Social Return on Investment (SROI). But in case you missed it, here’s a short summary: social value is a concept that refers to the positive impacts and benefits generated by an organisation, project, or initiative in terms of societal well-being, environmental sustainability and economic development. SROI is a financial approach to understanding the impact of a programme, initiative, or investment, expressed in monetary terms. The key principle of SROI is it measures change in a way that is relevant to the people experiencing change.

At Social Value Lab we are often asked to provide a SROI impact evaluation of a community-based project or national programme. And clients who contact us ask,what does this mean and how will we go about this?” For those who have not gone through the process then we’ve outlined our approach.

A Bespoke Approach

An approach is always customised and developed specifically for an organisation. However, for organisations to measure their impact and to communicate their results, we follow a tried and tested approach. This includes: 

Defining the scope and objectives of the evaluation: Identify the project’s goals, target population, and expected outcomes. This will help determine the appropriate indicators to measure the project’s impact.

Identifying stakeholders: Identify all stakeholders involved in the project, including beneficiaries, funders, and partners.

Working with clients to develop a Theory Of Change: This outlines how the project will achieve its goals and expected outcomes. This will help us later identify the inputs, activities, outputs, and key priority outcomes of the project and produce an evaluation framework.

Collecting data: With your support we collect data on the inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes of the project. We use both quantitative and qualitative methods to collect data on the project or enterprise and from stakeholders. This can include transformative evaluation (an approach that seeks to engage the whole organisation and stakeholders in evaluating impact). We often include Most Significant Change. We gather and share stories of change and we can provide a template and train practitioners on how to do this well.  This might be a story of someone who was introverted, isolated and lacking skills but who once trust and relationships were built with a support project they have acquired more confidence and moved along the employability pathway.

Calculating the SROI ratio: We calculate the SROI ratio by dividing the project’s social value by its investment. The social value includes the economic, social, and environmental benefits of the project, while the investment includes the project’s costs. We review evidence collected from the stakeholder consultations and complete an impact map, which is a visual representation of the outcomes of an organisation’s activities. It is used to identify the stakeholders involved, the changes that are intended or unintended, and the outcomes that are expected to result from the activities.  The map is like a blueprint of the SROI analysis, and it includes information about the organisation, the scope of the analysis, and the stakeholders involved. The impact map is used to help evaluate the effectiveness of social programmes and initiatives  By using the impact map, it becomes possible to present the value of social impact 

An example of an SROI value map

Source: Social Value UK, SROI Impact Map

This will involve, among other things:

  • choosing which outcomes are considered
  • identifying outcome indicators and their source
  • determining the quantity of outcomes and their duration
  • determining and updating financial proxies and researching their value; and
  • determining attribution, deadweight and drop off.

For those unfamiliar with the jargon, attribution, deadweight, and drop-off are terms used in social return on investment (SROI) evaluations. Attribution is an assessment of how much of the outcome was caused by the contribution of other organisations or people. Deadweight is a measure of the amount of outcome that would have happened even if the activity had not taken place (what would have happened anyway!).

While Drop-off is used to account for the fact that in future years, the amount of outcome is likely to be less or, if the same, will be more likely to be influenced by other factors, so attribution to your organisation or your project intervention is lower. Drop-off is only calculated for outcomes that last more than one year.

These terms are used to help evaluate the effectiveness of social programs and initiatives. By taking into account deadweight, displacement, attribution, and drop-off in association with any outcomes achieved, it becomes possible to present the value of social impact

After a collaborative workshop we complete the research required to finalise the SROI calculation. Our experience is this requires a mix of research skills, experience and professional judgement, and therefore can be best done by our experienced evaluation team.

We would then to test the robustness of the SROI ratio. This means changing variables that affect the SROI ratio, like deciding the outcomes might last longer than your first assessment.

Bringing the Findings to Life

We communicate the findings of the SROI impact evaluation to stakeholders. This is done in a report using plain English, with clear graphics and quotes from stakeholders.  We usually produce a short Executive Summary and we can turn this into a slide deck for presentations if the client prefers. Recently where the budget allows, we have been including a short film summarising the project objectives, approach, impact, learnings and recommendations along with the SROI value. This can be used on the clients website, social media feeds and during presentations.

This will help you demonstrate the project’s impact and inform future decision-making.

We use our assessment to:

  • evidence the impact of the intervention on people, and the local community
  • demonstrate the social value created by the project to its stakeholders
  • Emphasise the additional benefits the project provides
  • Provide evidence of the social impact to existing and potential funders and decision makers; and
  • Make recommendations for developing the project or organisation further in the future.

Highlighting the Positive Work

For us SROI evaluation is a unique opportunity to demonstrate and highlight the positive impact of our clients’ work and find ways for clients to improve the next time round. Our focus is on:

Outcomes. We seek to demonstrate the difference that interventions are making and how this can best be tracked and reported

Forward looking and developmental. We work with clients to ensure the learning from the evaluation process feeds into programme development.

Seeking to inspire. We work to overcome any resistance or anxiety and inspire curiosity about what can be learned through the evaluation process.

Celebrating achievements and capturing learning. We document what has worked well and not so well. This is coupled with evidence of good practice, and lessons that can inform wider policy and practice.

Practical solutions. We make practical recommendations for the future and provide clear guidance on how to implement these.

While this outlines our approach the actual process may vary depending on the project’s context and objectives. If you need advice, support or would like more information, contact us now to learn more.

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