Making Sense of Impact Analysis
To read the article in the original newsletter which was published in Spring 2012, please click here and go to page 36 of the publication.
Social impact analysis is not a sexy topic. Yet it has gained increasing profile in the past few months. In the UK, the Social Value Bill is going through the United Kingdom’s House of Lords and is a few steps away from passing into law. Non-profit organisations, foundations and socially responsible businesses are now under increasing pressure to demonstrate their value for money to funders, stakeholders and the wider public alike, as available funding diminishes. There is also a growing buzz around the idea of impact investing, underpinned by interest in the social impact bonds pioneered at in the UK and by initiatives such as the Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS).
Despite all of this, the practice of social impact analysis remains obscure. The emergence of numerous new methodologies and approaches, often complex and laden with jargon, and the fact that social impact expertise and skills remain scattered across a wide range of sectors, makes it difficult to agree a common set of standards for reporting or assessment amongst practitioners themselves. There are few opportunities for sharing knowledge and information about how best to conduct social impact analysis, or how to put the results to use within an organisation. And social impact analysis as a profession remains little known, unregulated and unsupported.
For funders and charities seeking to assess their impact for the first time, the lack of standards, compounded by the lack of guidance available to them, makes it incredibly difficult to find a social impact analyst, establish their credibility, and choose a suitable methodology.
This is why the Social Impact Analysts Association (SIAA) has been created. SIAA is an international professional body that supports and connects social impact analysts. SIAA’s purpose is to help share and improve knowledge of social impact analysis internationally and across different policy areas, by helping our members learn from one another. The organisation has been established by a consortium of funders including the Adessium Foundation in the Netherlands, Bertelsmann Stiftung in Germany, New Philanthropy Capital in the UK and PricewaterhouseCoopers Germany.
We launched SIAA at an ‘unconference’ in December 2011, whose agenda was set on the day by our delegates, a majority of whom are now SIAA members. The day ran as a series of open-ended workshops in which delegates identified the most pressing problems we face in practicing social impact analysis; discussed how SIAA and others can help address these issues, for instance through working groups, bespoke research or partnership working between existing initiatives; and committed to working towards these solutions together. We wanted to create a setting in which our members and other thought leaders on social impact could genuinely interact with others and shape the agenda, both on the day and for SIAA going forward.
This is because our members are the real brains behind SIAA. They are the ones with the experience and expertise to define what good practice of social impact analysis looks like, internationally and across different sectors. At the launch, our members told us they wanted more networking opportunities, a chance to exchange knowledge with other professionals in this field, and to learn from developments in different sub-sectors and different countries. A large majority told us they wanted SIAA to represent them as social impact analysts.
Since then, SIAA’s focus has been on engaging with members and developing the practical, professional support they need, as well as raising awareness of social impact analysis, its benefits and limitations. We are working with our growing membership of 130 individuals and organisations – ranging from charities, university departments and third-sector support bodies to grant-makers and large corporations – to expand the conversation about social impact analysis internationally.
Of particular interest to foundations are the networking and outreach events SIAA is holding with the Essl Foundation in Vienna, the Erasmus Centre for Strategic Philanthropy in Rotterdam, and Philanthropy Ireland in Dublin in the coming months. All of these events will explore the implications of the impact agenda for these different contexts and for foundations, who are now facing challenges from national governments and the public about their role in public life and are increasingly looking to social impact as a means of assessing the value of their investments.
Going forward, SIAA will help support the professional development of its members via networking online and through events, by creating working groups and other discussion forums to encourage members to share knowledge and information, and in the longer term by creating opportunities for training and certification. SIAA will also tackle the challenge of creating a common language for impact analysis, from principles and guidelines to accepted standards for measurement, analysis and reporting. We have already created a working group on principles to see what gaps currently exist, and help to fill them. We hope in this way to provide information that is useful not just to impact practitioners, but also to the funders and donors commissioning the work.