We have a provocation piece up today about social impact on Social Enterprise Live…Here it is in full:
Social impact measurement. Words to send a chill down the spine of many, and a shiver of excitement down some (you know who you are). For some, an utter turn-off, for others a near-impossibility, and for even more something to ignore or fear.
And yet, absolutely crucial. Whether you look at business guru Michael Porter’s recent writing on Shared Value, the growth of impact investing, the Social Value Bill, venture philanthropy, social impact bonds and more, the ability to measure social value and the impact of an organisation is absolutely central.
And, for the social entrepreneurs and social enterprises, not only crucial for communicating and proving their worth to those external agencies and investors, but also for improving their work, learning from their activity, motivating themselves and their team, and mobilising support.
But (and there are quite a few buts… ):
– there are more tools to choose from than in an over-excited DIY enthusiast’s garage;
– there is as much agreement on approaches as on when the Big Society Bank might open;
– there are those who think attribution is vital, and those who think it just doesn’t make sense;
– simply not enough impact measurement is going on at a grassroots, practitioner level;
– government says it’s important but has often summarily ignored it when making decisions about which organisations it should back (or save).
The debates have become stuck as well: SROI is critiqued for its cost and its ‘boiling down’ to a ratio, but its broad principles and international partnerships overlooked; multiple agencies work with individuals (as they should) but all claim the outcomes; individual sectors can’t agree standards or shared approaches; reporting and monitoring is mistaken for transparency and accountability; the different ‘camps’ have become entrenched; practitioners don’t have the necessary resources. And so on…
And the large grey, big-eared pachyderm in the lounge is the growing view that such impact and evaluation reports are just glorified marketing: solely aimed at an external audience and at arming the communications department with a handful of key statistics. There are those who point to the fact that evaluation is located in the marketing department, not in research. This means that an increasing number consider them the social enterprise equivalent of Jennifer Aniston saying, “Here comes the science bit” on the L’Oréal adverts: figures that give a veneer of credibility to the marketing of a product.
It’s time to shift the debate on, work out what’s next, untrench the entrenched (or something like that), work together (cue shocked gasps), take this stuff seriously (and implement improvements internally), and, most importantly, avoid the superficial attractions of glossy hair and prove that we are really, genuinely worth it.
Should be fairly simple.