Is this real life? Is this just fantasy? – Using social impact analysis to improve (part 1)


Ruth Whateley

Ruth Whateley

Ruth Whateley

Social impact analysis and measurement is the growing hot topic among professionals involved in civil society organisations, philanthropy and social finance across Europe. However, it is important to ask the question are we all living in a fantasy world where we think social purpose organisations will implement and use impact analysis to improve their work?

In this two-part blog article I will give some real-life examples of organisations and individuals from across Europe engaging in social impact analysis on a practical level, to counter the view that this is all one big fantasy. These examples are drawn from working in partnership with members of the Social Impact Analysts Association (SIAA) over the past four months to run a series of partner meetings or SIAA Impact Group launches in Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ireland, UK and Spain. Across these countries, with their differing political, economic and social landscapes, there were a surprising level of engagement and consensus around three burning questions in this field.

The first question was why should we do impact analysis in the first place?

At each event there was a sense that many of the attendees were already won over by the idea of doing social impact analysis, but that there is still a need to discuss the main drivers for organisational and individual engagement.

During a meeting at Philanthropy Ireland in May, it was claimed that NGOs in Ireland are primarily engaging with impact analysis in order to satisfy funders. A claim similarly held in the UK and backed up by a New Philanthropy Capital study ‘Making an Impact’ (2012) which found ‘52% of charities that have increased their measurement efforts say they did so to meet funders’ requirements’. However, the research also suggested that the main benefit for charities was actually using the analysis to improve services.

Similarly at events in both Bulgaria and Hungary attendees heard case studies from Dr Andreas Rickert, CEO of Phineo in Germany, an organisation carrying out independent research for donors based on analysing the work of NGOs. Andreas outlined Phineo’s due diligence process, including analysis of all organisational dimensions of a non-profit from internal management to monitoring systems. An evaluation of Phineo’s work showed that 90% of organisations who went through the analysis reported they could improve their work as a result.

How then do we ensure that impact analysis is used to improve services and increase social impact?

At the Ministry of Social Affairs in Estonia practical examples such as the use of dashboards and IT systems to monitor and analyse the progress of an organisation were discussed at length. Jaan Aps from the Estonian Social Enterprise Network explained that such dashboards can be used to integrate analysis into the everyday work of an organisation. Further examples were discussed by reference to a recent Estonian social impact evaluation handbook (Jaan Aps, 2012) which has provided much-needed language and context specific guidance in this area.

Similarly practical examples were shared at an event hosted by the Foundation for Development of Democratic Rights in Hungary. Jeremy Nicholls, Chairman of SIAA and CEO of The SROI Network, shared plans for the development of a social value budget by the FRC Group in the UK. Such a budget would be something that could sit alongside the financial budget in an organisation. It would be used by the management team to monitor, analyse, report and improve upon their work in collaboration with their board of trustees. Jeremy also made reference to the SIAA Principles Working Group’s mapping of existing principles of impact analysis and a SIAA Thought Paper providing a framework for ‘how an organisation can approach the practice of social impact analysis’.

Attendees and speakers in Hungary were very encouraged by such case studies, but were aware of the perception in Hungary that this type of analysis is too complex for the current political and economic context. In response to these concerns, a number of speakers – such as Eva Varga from NESsT – explained that organisations can take baby steps, starting with low budget, simple approaches such a as theory of change to go beyond just measuring outputs.

In Ireland it was emphasised that good work is already being done on a sector-specific level to analyse outcomes in a collective way. For example the Prevention and Early Intervention Network and Children’s Research Network for Ireland and Northern Ireland are some of the increasing number of organisations trying to facilitate sharing of data and analysis on a sector and system level to influence change. The message here is that we need to stop constantly reinventing the wheel and look at how we can use shared measurement approaches and existing evidence and data to make better decisions and improve. Similarly in Bulgaria attendees were very interested to hear the mention of a UK programme Inspiring Impact and its blueprint for shared measurement case studies, such as the outcomes measurement framework Insights from the CAADA (co-ordinated action against domestic abuse) network.

Leadership and skills also came up as vital for organisations to use impact analysis. Without management and board members behind this work it isn’t hard to see how staff can lack the motivation and incentive to use impact analysis to review practice. In the UK Inspiring Impact has also been working on launching a Code of Good Impact Practice to encourage Impact Leadership.

The perceived lack of ‘impact leaders’ and the availability of professionals with the right skills and knowledge were apparent when it came to the discussion of funder involvement in impact analysis. The appropriate involvement of funders and alignment of expectations with investees was identified as a key challenge across all countries.

In the next article, to be published next week, we will look at how we can educate and engage with funders and government.

Ruth Whateley is manager of the Social Impact Analysts Association (SIAA)

Tagged in: Impact measurement SIAA social impact

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