Social Impact Analysis

Read the original article published on 1 December 2011 on the Cause4opinion blog

I have long been sceptical about PR companies that attribute a precise monetised sum to the  value of PR achieved for their clients –  for instance through coverage on television, radio, in print and through other media.  “ Media activity of £500,000 in Advertising Value Equivalent,” was one such claim I encountered recently.  Generally this is done when looking to justify either their own effectiveness in ‘leveraging’ a corporate sponsorship or else as part of the negotiation surrounding the buying or selling of a sponsorship opportunity. In much the same vein there are sceptics who question the validity of  those claiming to be able to measure social impact achieved through successful interventions delivered by the charitable, public or private sectors.

Social Return on Investment is established through formulas which place a monetised value equating to the costs that society would otherwise need to meet if successful intervention had not occurred.  Discussions, debates and disagreements have been commonplace amongst a range of experts and funders, the ‘believers’ who think everything is quantifiable and those who think the ‘believers’ are indulging in fanciful guesswork.   In the light of this we have been looking forward to today when the Social Impact Analysts Association, a splendidly prosaic title for a new international professional body comprising charity and social enterprise leaders, researchers, economists and academics, launched itself into our midst.

The newly formed Social Impact Analysts Association

The current times bring many opportunities  for charities, social enterprises and the private sector to be commissioned to deliver public services that can impact, for instance, upon social justice, education, health, unemployment and the elderly.  The idea of paying for good performance – and conversely not paying for under-performance – seems an excellent one (at least to us), rewarding good practitioners and ensuring excellent value for the tax-payer.  Critical to this is the establishment of reliable, unfudgeable metrics to assess the hard financial value of interventions and compare these with the costs in delivery.   There has been a lot of talk  by lots of people for a lot of time around measuring impact.  Additionally we know that a lot of work has already been undertaken by the likes of New Philanthropy Capital.  We look forward to seeing what the Social Impact Analysts Association will produce.Without a clear, universally-recognised,  consistently-applied means by which to measure impact, Social Impact Commissioning, for all its benefits, will go nowhere.

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