Social Value Assessments

Social Impact Assessment

Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is the process of assessing and managing the consequences of development projects, policies and decisions on people. Its objective is to identify the intended and unintended effects of planned interventions/activities in order to develop sustainable management plans.

Social impacts of a project or activity could include positive or negative changes in one or more of five broad areas:

  • demographic (e.g. changes in gender or age distributions, the number of resident versus non resident workers)
  • economic (e.g. local employment and business opportunities and economic conditions, availability and affordability of housing)
  • health and wellbeing (e.g. social, economic, lifestyle and behaviours, access to services)
  • environmental (e.g. dust, noise, lighting and water-quality impacts on social amenity/liveability and health and wellbeing)
  • institutional (e.g. capacity, capability and membership of community organisations and governance mechanisms).

The social impact assessment process involves:

  • understanding the local and regional areas potentially affected
  • developing a stakeholder engagement plan
  • scoping the social and cultural environment (to establish a baseline)
  • forecasting possible social changes
  • developing a robust methodology
  • estimating the significance of predicted changes
  • identifying and managing potential impacts (usually undertaking by the business as part of their Social Impact Management Plan)
  • developing a monitoring plan to track implementation (monitoring is usually undertaken by the business or by the consultant as a secondary activity)

The assessment involves the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data. This data enables the existing, or baseline, social conditions to be measured and provides a basis for measuring future impacts.

In the context of businesses, SIAs are generally used before a project to identify the likely social benefits and impacts of their activities. Businesses may consider this information useful when:

  • Planning for community engagement and needing to identify impacts so as to determine mitigation strategies
  • Planning for stakeholder engagement and needing to demonstrate benefits and/or impacts and mitigation strategies to gain stakeholder commitments
  • Competing for business and needing to demonstrate consideration of social impact
  • Promoting the project and wanting to promote the ‘added value’ to the community and/or consumers

Social Return on Investment

Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a framework for measuring and accounting for the social value that a project or activity may return, once the investment has been deducted.

SROI measures change in ways that are relevant to the people or organisations that experience or contribute to it. It tells the story of how change is being created by measuring social, environmental and economic outcomes and uses monetary values to represent them. This enables a ratio of benefits to costs to be calculated. For example, a ratio of 3:1 indicates that an investment of $1 delivers $3 of social value. SROI is about value, rather than money. In the same way that a business plan contains much more information than the financial projections, SROI is much more than just a number. It is a story about change, on which to base decisions, that includes case studies and qualitative, quantitative and financial information.

In the context of businesses, SROIs can be used before, during or after a project to measure the social value or ‘return’ that the project or organisation may or has delivered. This may be relevant when

  • Planning a project that requires significant investment upfront and needing to demonstrate the likely financial and/or social return the project will generate to gain executive approval or board endorsement
  • Planning for stakeholder engagement and needing to demonstrate social value of project to facilitate commitment from stakeholders
  • Facilitating business decision making processes around whether to undertake a project or pursue an activity
  • Promoting the project and wanting to promote the ‘added value’ to the community and/or consumers

There are two types of SROI:

  • Evaluative, which is conducted retrospectively and based on actual outcomes that have already taken place.
  • Forecast, which predicts how much social value will be created if the activities meet their intended outcomes.

Project Planning, Implementation and Process Evaluation

All businesses at some time or another undertake project or programs that impact on their consumers, staff or the community. Project planning, implementation and evaluation can be undertaken internally or supported by an external consultant to facilitate the process.

Project evaluation can be defined as the consistent, ongoing collection and analysis of information for use in decision making. Decision making can occur at any stage of the project life cycle, being before, during or after.

Project evaluation supports the business by providing ongoing, systematic information that strengthens projects during their life cycle, and, whenever possible, outcome data to assess the extent of change. The evaluation effort should leave an organization stronger and more able to use such an evaluation when outside support ends.

Project evaluation methods should include a range of techniques to address important project questions. Project evaluation should:

  • Address real issues: evaluation efforts should be based around the real context of the project and/or organisation and provide staff and stakeholders with reliable information from which to address problems and build on strengths and opportunities
  • Create a participatory process: people must participate in project evaluation. The best evaluations value multiple perspectives and involve a representation of people who care about the project. Effective evaluations also prepare organizations to use evaluation as an ongoing function of management and leadership
  • Allow for flexibility: in design, implementation, and review

Outcomes Based Measurement

Outcome evaluation is another important feature of any comprehensive evaluation plan. It assesses the short- and long-term results of a project and seeks to measure the changes brought about by the project. Outcome evaluation questions ask: What are the critical outcomes you are trying to achieve? What impact is the project having on its clients, its staff, its umbrella organization, and its community? What unexpected impact has the project had?

Outcome evaluation can serve an important role during each phase of a project’s development. Early on, you might focus outcome evaluation on:

  • determining what outcomes you expect or hope for from the project; and
  • thinking through how individual participant/client outcomes connect to specific program or system-level outcomes.

In later phases of project maturity, an effective outcome evaluation process is critical to:

  • demonstrating the effectiveness of your project and making a case for its continued funding or for expansion/replication;
  • helping to answer questions about what works, for whom, and in what circumstances, and how to improve program delivery and services; and
  • determining which implementation activities and contextual factors are supporting or hindering outcomes and overall program effectiveness.

A Program Logic Model is an effective method for charting progress toward interim and long-term outcomes. A program logic model is a picture of how your program works—the theory and assumptions underlying the program. A program logic model links outcomes (both short- and long-term) with program activities/processes and the theoretical assumptions/principles of the program. This model provides a roadmap of your program, highlighting how it is expected to work, what activities need to come before others, and how desired outcomes are achieved.