Is this real life? Is this just fantasy? – Using social impact analysis to improve (part 2)


Ruth Whateley

Ruth Whateley

Ruth Whateley

In part one of this article we explored the opportunities that social impact analysis can offer, but found that involving the right participants remains a challenge. So, how can we educate and engage with funders and government to ensure this is not a top-down conversation?

In Estonia one attendee described the ‘large dark matter between NGOs and funders’ when it comes to communication around impact analysis. At each event attendees coming from both NGO and funder perspectives reiterated this frustration, suggesting there is an imbalance between funder requirements and what is useful and realistic for the organisation in question.

An example of a reporting system that is trying to redress the balance is the new German Social Reporting Standard (SRS). The SRS is a framework for self- assessment for NGOS to report on social impact as well as financial information to funders. The SRS was discussed at a number of the events and met with huge interest especially after hearing that the German Ministry of Social Affairs is now debating whether to adopt this as the primary reporting standard for their work with NGOs.

In Spain at an event organised by the Stone Soup Consulting, Philanthropic Intelligence, Spanish Association of Foundations and SIAA, there was mention of useful practical guidance for funders and social investors. Two examples are The Good Investor and A Practical Guide to Measuring and Managing Impact from the European Venture Philanthropy Association. These guides were outlined as practical resources to guide funders around what is appropriate engagement with investees.

In terms of government involvement, in Bulgaria at an event hosted by the Tulip Foundation, a presentation from Nadia Shabani from the Bulgarian Centre for Non-profit Law (BCNL) focused on the need for government to understand the benefits of engaging in impact analysis to help make better social policy decisions. After 15 years working on dynamic legislation, Nadia explained that many social policy models in Bulgaria have been adapted from other countries such as France and the UK. However they often don’t produce the desired outcome as additional effort is need to make the policies work within the Bulgaria context. Impact analysis is something that could enable government and NGOs to identify the barriers to successful implementation of policies, for example in the recent reforms in the child care system.

Similar discussions took place in Ireland and the UK, where local and national government is starting to embed more in depth analysis and evaluation approaches. In the UK the passing of the Social Value Act (2012) requiring ‘public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts’ clearly indicates a commitment towards better evidence based policy making. Similarly in Ireland the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES) has been launched to send economists into government departments to ask key questions around the social impact of their work. It is still an open question as to how much influence these changes will make, but is progress nonetheless.

In Hungary, Estonia and Bulgaria there was also considerable discussion around the involvement of the European Commission, as EU funding contributes to a substantial percentage of funding for NGOs in each country. The challenges identified with this type of funding were that it often leads to over planning of programmes and the use of pre-set indicators which are not useful to the NGOs in their various political, social and economic contexts. In addition there are worries that social impact measurement is a new buzz phrase in Brussels, and that any developments in this area won’t be realistic or appropriate to the needs and organisational capacity on the ground.

Although no one had a quick fix to these challenges there was discussion of how organisations like Ashoka are based in various European countries, but are also able to work in Brussels to influence EU level changes around social enterprises. Many members and attendees suggested that as SIAA develops it might be a very useful vehicle through which analysts and frontline practioners can feedback on the best way forward for impact analysis and measurement issues on a European level. Consultation with analysts and a number of SIAA members is already happening through the GECES Social Impact Measurement Sub-group, to help advise on the European Commission’s Social Business Initiative. Consequently it is not an unrealistic goal for SIAA to play a bigger role in representing analysts at this level.

So, is this real life?

Having covered a number of examples and new developments I would argue yes, this is real life. Although we have a long way to go there are some inspiring case studies emerging across Europe showing that impact analysis can be useful if everyone in an organisation gets behind it. The language emerging is that social impact analysis requires a particular kind of organisational ‘mind-set’ and ethos. Leaders and frontline workers need to be able to engage with analysts and use impact analysis to look at the work of the whole organisation, its strategic objectives and how they fit into the wider system. If done well it can be a real life way for organisations to improve their work in the service of society.

Ruth Whateley is manager of the Social Impact Analysts Association (SIAA). SIAA launched the first Austria Impact Group in November 2012. New country Impact Groups are under development in Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Canada with plans for groups in Romania and Portugal in late 2013. Further mapping of the needs in Ireland, Spain and the UK are under way. Get in touch with SIAA via for more information.

Tagged in: Analysis Europe social impact

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