Discussions about measuring social impact have been going on for decades, but practices have been slow to change. The third sector is used to measuring outputs, but understanding and articulating outcomes – the real difference we make – can be much more difficult. With these challenges in mind, Community Enterprise and the Social Audit Network organised “Social Impact in Scotland: What’s the Point?” This panel debate on October 25th 2018 marked the start of our new partnership in Scotland.
Speakers Anne Lythgoe, Vice-Chair of the Social Audit Network, Rowan Boase, Evaluation Manager at the Big Lottery Fund, Jeremy Wyatt from Social Value UK and Douglas Westwater, CEO of Community Enterprise Ltd responded to questions from third-sector organisations from across Scotland. The debate touched on a broad range of topics, including the challenges of standardisation and benchmarking in social impact measurement, the need for social accounts to reflect governance practices and the role of the social investment sector in the current push for social impact measurement.
Social impact: Challenges and Opportunities
As the manager of one community venue noted, one difficulty is that some of the most impactful work that the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector does is also the most difficult to measure. How can we understand the social impact of preventative work, or the value of a series of micro-interventions by a range of different organisations? Research can sometimes offer a way to draw connections between outcomes for individuals and broader social change. But tracing these ripple effects takes time and capacity, and as the dialogue around social impact measurement spreads, there is a need to avoid unrealistic expectations.
One thing that is becoming clear, however, is that understanding and reporting on the difference we make is not a one-way street. Community and social enterprises need to be accountable to our users and the community, not just to our funders. When done well, building social accounting into the way we work offers a way for organisations to understand the difference we make, and to do better for the people we serve.
Partnership with the Social Audit Network
The Social Audit Network is a global network of social accounting and audit practitioners, which sets standards, runs training, carries out research and trains and registers Social Auditors to verify social accounts. The SAN does not adhere to a single tool or method, but recognises that organisations will have very different social impact measurement needs. Community Enterprise is a social enterprise and charity that delivers hands-on development support to community organisations throughout Scotland that wish to become more effective and sustainable.
Following on from the panel discussion, Community Enterprise and the Social Audit Network hope to run a practical, in-depth workshop for practitioners supporting the voluntary sector and community and social enterprises. If you would like to register your interest at this stage, please get in touch.