Tag Archives: social impact

Social impact: the use of language and why it matters…

In this world of a Trump election in the USA and Brexit in the UK – where facts and ‘truth’ are being stretched to a frightening degree, I am reminded of George Orwell and his concept of doublethink.  He writes…

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history. (George Orwell, 1984)

This idea of words and language being used to manipulate thinking is at the heart of Orwell’s work.  He recognised that language and words are crucially important.

As we enter a world of post-truth and increasingly instantaneous information and communication, we are going to have to be more scrupulous in filtering out fact from a tidal flood of fiction which has been designed to influence the way we think.

Of course, language can be used to explain and clarify things.  The late James Cameron in an article in the Guardian in the 1980s wrote about how he did not really know or understand his opinion on things until he had tried to express it in words.  He relates how he became surprised at the opinions – often strong opinions – that he held which only really come to light when he put his thoughts into words.

This resonated with me at that time – and it still does – as it reveals the strong link between our culture – the way we think about things in the world, and the language we use to explain it to ourselves and to others.

But language can also be used to confuse and obfuscate the truth intended in the meaning.

Often there is a difference between what people say they are doing and what they are actually doing. This lack of a clear link with reality may just the absence of clear thinking, but it may be deliberate to manipulate how others think about things and what they do about it.

In the world of social enterprise, words are used in ways that intend to influence.  Indeed, the term ‘social enterprise’ originated from the French, ‘economie sociale’, and its early use was not to explain the impact of economic activity in ‘social’ ways or in benefitting people.  Rather the term was used to explain that the economic activity was owned by people.  For me this is an interesting distinction, and one that is often forgotten.  But, of course, the term has evolved from its roots into what we understand ‘social enterprise’ to mean today, that is, the impact on people.

Another example from the history of social enterprise…

A precursor to social enterprise in the UK was the Scottish community business movement that started in the 1970s with rural community co-operatives supported by the then Highlands and Islands Development Board (now Highland and Islands Enterprise).

The idea of community ownership of economic activity spread to urban areas with community-owned businesses supported by local authorities using Urban Programme funding. This movement flourished, became established and mainstream. In the early 1990s it came in for a lot of criticism (some of it quite valid) but this led to people changing the terminology – if not the concept.  They started to refer to these types of organisations as ‘community enterprises’.  Not the old guard, ‘community business’, but the fresh and new, ‘community enterprise’.

Similarly, in the early 1990s a range of versions of community-owned businesses emerged.  In my view, they were more-or-less the same thing but with a new twist: ‘development trusts’, ‘social firms’ – to name but two.  Old wine in new bottles.  The newly formed terms implied a new concept.

Turning to the world of ‘social impact’ there are similar things happening.

I have been actively involved in ‘social accounting and audit’ for many years.  We started to use this term in the early 2000s replacing ‘social audit’ as we felt the longer term more accurately described the two parts of ‘social accounting’ and ‘social audit’.  As you can imagine it is not a particularly popular term and we thought of changing it into something more immediately appealing like, ‘SEE Visioning’ or similar.

It was thought that a change of name might attract those that associated ‘accounting’ and ‘audit’ with arduous and stressful connotations.  For better or for worse we stuck with the accuracy of ‘social accounting and audit’.  You get what is says on the tin…

More recently I have become aware of a subtle change of word usage in the social impact field.

A few years ago, the term ‘impact measurement’ was on everyone’s lips.  We were being encouraged to ‘measure’ the change that happens on people, the environment and on the local economies.  If we could not, the argument was that the impact could not be managed – or so we were told.

The Social Audit Network has always disputed this and said that just because one cannot measure something, one can still put a value on it.  In fact, many of the things that most people personally would value in their lives, cannot be measured – like love, close friendship, the warmth of company, the delight in a beautiful view, the exhilaration of achievement, and so on.  Others in this area of social impact insisted that ‘measurement’ was key.

Inevitably, those that insisted on measuring things and often reducing the good things in life to a financial value are now recognising that they may have been wrong.  But instead of accepting that – yes, you are right – they change the words.  ‘Impact management’ has been introduced.  Recognising the absurdities of trying to measuring everything, which one cannot sensibly do, let’s change it to managing and understanding our impact.

Perhaps what is not so strange is that those advocating ‘impact management’ now are not a million miles away from what ‘social accounting and audit’ has been suggesting for decades.

So the use of language may just be a minor skirmish within the social impact.  But it is arguably a reflection of something much more important – that is, the way we use language and what we really mean.

I can see that in a future more nationalist, more fearful, more defensive and exclusive world, the connection between language and ‘truth’ will become more divergent.

The writing of Orwell will no doubt come back to haunt (or is it taunt us?).  In his work, ‘Politics and the English Language’, he writes…

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.

I am not sure what a cuttlefish is, but there seems to be a lot of them about.

Alan Kay

Social Audit Network (SAN) www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk

A Flexible Approach to Reporting on Social Impact

In the last 10 years or so, numerous organisations have been set up to provide toolkits and offer support and advice on producing social impact reports.  The Social Value Act (SVA) 2012 was like an injection of steroids into the sector and we now probably have more organisations offering consultancy and information than we can usefully make sense of.

For many organisations seeking to report on their social purpose there is now a bewildering array of options to choose from – making it difficult to see the wood for the trees. The SVA and recent procurement policy guidance requires organisations to demonstrate their social value as well as reporting on their financial capability.

What many people probably don’t realize is that the antecedents for reporting on social value and social impact stretch back to the 1970s when the term ‘social audit’ was first used. Social Audit Limited was a company formed at that time to consider using ‘social audit’ to outline the effects of large factory closure on local communities.

‘Social auditing’ was then further developed by Freer Spreckley and his pioneering work with Beechwood College in Yorkshire in the 1980s, producing the first social audit toolkit.  In the late 1980s the Community Business Movement in Scotland extended this work to community enterprises – John Pearce and Alan Kay amongst the prime movers in this work – leading to the establishment of the Social Audit Network (SAN).

The 1980s was Thatcher’s decade, and the idea of demonstrating social value was counter to the strict Conservative Party policy of financialising pretty much everything.  A great deal of experimental work was carried out in Scotland between 1980 and 2003 when the Social Audit Network was officially launched; seeking to demonstrate that it isn’t just money that matters.

I recently attended the Social Value UK (SVUK) Members Exchange meeting in Birmingham (November 2016), where there were representatives from practitioner and social impact reporting services organisations.

I participated in a round table discussion of about 12 people at the meeting exploring how the information produced for the quality assurance and management of organisations could be integrated into social impact reports.

We know that some community and social enterprises already provide data to meet the requirements of quality assurance/management bodies such as PQASSO, European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM), Investors in People & the Matrix Standard. A number of them use the SAN Social Accounting and Audit (SAA) framework and included this data into their social accounts.

We also know that some organisations using the SAN framework include Social Return on Investment (SROI) type analysis on some part of their activities  – most notably Birmingham Council of Voluntary Organisations (BCVO), All Saints Action Network (ASAN) in Wolverhampton and Five Lamps in the North East and Yorkshire.

There were probably as many consultants as practitioners at the Members Exchange meeting, and that left me wondering whether practitioners – particularly those that SAN has traditionally represented, voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises – are sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of information available to report on social impact and confused about which approach would best suit their needs.

In terms of finding a suitable approach to reporting on social value and impact, it seems to me that there are a few fundamental questions to ask;

  • What is the purpose of producing a social impact report?
  • Who is going to see it and what use can they make of it?
  • Does it need to be complex or could it be done relatively simply?
  • What detail is needed to satisfy the stakeholders?

Organisations that use SAN’s social accounting and audit framework like the flexibility to include an array of different tools in their reporting. They can draw on existing quality assurance/ management information AND include a SROI element to dig deeper into financial returns if they choose to.

The point is that the SAN SAA framework offers the flexibility to use different tools and data in the reporting of both performance and impact. 

Additionally, SAN uniquely has a network of accredited social auditors who can be contracted to audit the social accounts. At a time when demonstrating social value is becoming an increasingly necessary requirement, the independent auditing of the accounts is a vital component of verifying the authenticity and validity of the information, provided in much the same way as financial auditors do with financial accounts.

Sean Smith, SAN Director and West Midlands Regional Coordinator www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk 

Social impact: should we be talking process or product?

I was reminded recently of the story about Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece.  It is the well-known story of a young man with a goal in mind but in order to achieve that end, he has a long, challenging and arduous journey.   It was an adventure, and throughout the journey Jason grew as a person, became wiser, tackled problems and overcame obstacles.  Although the final product was obtaining a prize, the process involved in trying to attain the prize was equally important.

The lesson learned from this story being…the journey is as important as the destination.  In today’s media parlance – we were on a journey and it was a bit of a rollercoaster but we got through it!

With a bit of a stretch of the imagination it is similar with social impact reporting.  The activities that are done to understand the degree that one’s organisation is making a difference can be as important – if not more important – than the resultant social report.

I have been involved with social accounting and audit for many years.  Working with others, we developed a PROCESS to help organisations collect relevant quantitative and qualitative information relating to their central purpose.  This happens each year in the same way that financial accounts and ‘books’ are kept.

Organisations then bring this information together and report on their performance and on their impact on their stakeholders.   The process is internal to the organisation, owned and controlled by the organisation – thereby empowering it to self-monitor and self-evaluate.

At the end of a year the organisation will produce its own social impact report – this is the PRODUCT.  Thus. the process can be regarded as the ‘journey’ and the social report is the ‘destination’.

With social accounting and audit there is a wee sting in the tail in that the product is externally verified with an audit – again similar to financial annual accounts.  The audit ensures that the final product of the report is valid and a true interpretation of what the organisation has, and has not, achieved during the year.  On passing the audit, a statement is issued – not golden fleece I am afraid – just a signed certificate.

Organisations who regularly keep a set of social accounts and subject them to audit report a number of significant benefits.

The PROCESS helps them understand more clearly what they do to achieve an overall purpose; it forces them to listen to a wide range of different stakeholders; it can keep them on track; it can help them in explaining more clearly what they do; it can be used in organisational record-keeping and learning; it can get people to work together more effectively; and so on.

There are benefits too from producing a report – the PRODUCT.  It can be summarised and distributed widely to stakeholders and the wider public; it can be used to report back to funders; it can be the basis for future planning; it can track change that an organisation has had to deal with; it can be used, in part, to brief outsiders; and so on.

So in social accounting and audit both the PROCESS and the PRODUCT have value.

The Social Audit Network (SAN) was set up to help third sector and community organisation to introduce social accounting and audit into their organisations – and to help them with the process of social accounting as well as producing a social report.

Within SAN we often have the debate – is process more important than the product or vice versa.

I fall more into the process ‘camp’.  For me the final report does have value and I can see the advantages of having the statement endorsing the social accounts.  But it is going through the process that can have a more influential effect on the organisation.  It can help all parts of an organisation not only to take stock on a regular basis but also to reflect on what the organisation is trying to do and how it is doing that.

So many social and community enterprises see a need, respond to it, try and address it, and then get caught up in delivering whatever it is that they do.  Building into the annual organisational cycle a process of data collection and stakeholder engagement to quantify outputs and to understand and to be able to report on outcomes, can be hugely beneficial.  Is the organisation doing the best it can?  Could it be doing something better or more effective? How can it change? How can it plan to improve?

The folk in the product camp stress the value of a report in that it can be used as the central document in an organisation.  It can be used to prove or evidence the work that has been done by the organisation in achieving its ends.

Now if you are a process-type person, you have to be able to accept that processes can be messy.  Through trial and error…and trial again, one learns – and through that learning a deeper understanding begins to emerge.

In researching this blog I came across a website – Prek and K Sharing which deals with working with children to create art.  They argue that in encouraging art the PROCESS of doing is more important than the final PRODUCT.

In the picture below the process is messy and undefined but reflects the learning, while the well-structured neat product is more presentable and more accepted.

process-product

It is the same with social impact reporting.  The process of collecting, collating and making sense of information and opinions can be messy – while the learning from it can be immense.

So which would you choose?  The process (read Jason’s adventurous journey) or the product (read ‘golden fleece’) or both…

Alan Kay – Social Audit Network (SAN) – www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk

Social reporting – a pretty penny or not?

Sharp intake of breath………’that’ll cost you a pretty penny’.

Those of us who have at various times in life owned older cars will appreciate immediately the unwelcome tones of a garage mechanic delivering his verdict on that elusive ‘knocking sound’.

For 10 years I’ve led an organisation committed to annually completing the Social Accounting and Audit cycle. Every year we have published our Social Accounts in an attractive, professionally produced form.

I am a Social Accounting and Audit enthusiast. I make no apology! No sooner does a network colleague or contact from the charitable or social enterprise sector start to reflect on their challenges around funding, outcome measures, and the demanding competitive environment, then they walk straight into my slightly evangelistic pitch!

The responses I get when I’ve waffled on for a while about how brilliant Social Accounting and Audit is and the incredible transformational impact it has had on my own organisation, ranges from; “tell me more, that sounds good”, to; “sharp intake of breath……that must cost a pretty penny?” And if not the latter then something along the lines of; “We’re just so busy at the moment we haven’t got the time to even think about those lovely add-ons like measuring social impact”.

I think most people will realise that over a 10 year period a charity like ours will have had some extremely busy times and have often been tempted to play the “we’re just too busy” card! But we never have. Why?

At the risk of slipping this blog into the style of a Ronnie Corbett monologue and going backwards more than forwards…….I need to set the scene a bit.

The NeuroMuscular Centre (NMC) is the charity I work for. We’re a medium sized charity with a regional focus but national UK-wide reach. We are the Centre of Excellence for People with Muscular Dystrophy and their families. We provide a wide range of treatment, advice, and training services along with carer’s breaks. As well as this, the jewel in our crown, is providing supported employment in a graphic design and print social enterprise.

In 2015 we won the GSK IMPACT Award. This recognises the best small/medium charities working in the Health and Wellbeing sector. We won partly because we so effectively and consistently measure and assess the impact of our work.

NMC

Back in 2005 NMC was like so many others in our sector. We relied on case studies and pen pictures to evidence that we made a positive difference to a few people. But we had nothing to show the scale of the impact we made for lots of people.

Meanwhile back at the Car Mechanics with my 1974 Vauxhall Viva and the sharp intake of breath; ”if you want my advice mate, it’ll cost you a pretty penny if you don’t measure Social Impact!” Never mind the couple of person-weeks it takes to produce them and never mind the £1200 Social Audit fee. These are tiny (but significant of course) investments in the life cycle of vibrant small and medium sized charities and social enterprises. The payback from Social Accounting and Audit is huge.

The investment in time? “2 weeks you say?” Yes around 2 person-weeks are spent in total each year to produce the draft of our Social Accounts – the stage at which we’re audited. This investment of time is shared between a number of people in the team and so is not onerous.

This investment gets easier every year as Social Accounting gets increasingly embedded in the soul and culture of the organisation. Things that begin as chores become the normal way of working. The whole team, and indeed our service users, begin to think about measuring impact automatically, NOT because we have to do it for a feedback return for a funder or contract partner, but because we want to do it.

Social Accounting and Audit puts our organisation in the driving seat in the relationships we have with our funders and contract partners. We have powerful feedback and measured impact information instantly to hand. We use it to make our funding applications stronger and more impactful than those who still rely on case studies. We use the analysis and data that we’ve produced to provide updates and feedback.

Here’s my knockout question(s)………….

Do you ever have to go and hurriedly ask people for feedback in order to complete a feedback report for a funder with a tight deadline? How many times a year does this happen? Is that unplanned activity disruptive and mired with duplicated effort?

Does that 2 person-week investment still seem like an onerous commitment that you couldn’t possible justify?

If the mechanic had mentioned a £1200 bill to fix my Viva then I know what I’d have done! But the £1200 fee for the Social Audit is not a reason to consider changing your vehicle.

The Social Audit is a day packed with influencing opportunities, diagnostics, recognition and endorsement that will not only remove that worrying knocking sound but will turn your old Viva into a much more rounded, accomplished, economical and environmentally sensitive organisation.

It will be one of the most important events in the life of your organisation. You and your team will enjoy it, be stimulated and informed by it. The sense of achievement and reflection that will flow from it will outweigh EVEN the pleasure you got from the plushest furry dice you ever bought for your Viva.

Matthew Lanham – Chief Executive – Neuromuscular Centre

matthew.lanham@nmcentre.com

Social impact reporting and marketing: a hazy divide?

“Marketing is manipulation and deceit. It tries to turn people into something they aren’t – individuals focused solely on themselves, maximising their consumption of goods that they don’t need.” Noam Chomsky

It is a powerful quote from Chomsky and not one that I entirely agree with as I feel that businesses have to promote and sell their products in the competitive environment which is part of our prevailing economic system.

The whole idea of marketing reminds me of a time I was wisely told by a colleague that there is often a difference between what people say they are doing and what they are actually doing.  This brings me to the main thread running through this blog which is the relationship between ‘marketing’ and ‘social impact reporting’.

In some ways it comes back to why should social and community enterprises regularly report on their performance and their impact on people, the environment and on the society in which they exist.  They do not have to.  So why do they?

Often social enterprises will say they are doing it in order to market what they do and to be able promote and ‘sell’ what they can provide – ‘selling’ it to investors or funders and other stakeholders.  This is quite legitimate and to be applauded but I would argue should not be the sole reason to report on social impact.

The last few decades have shown a huge and pervading expansion and emphasis on ‘marketing’.  Entrepreneurs starting out or wanting to expand will come up with a ‘product’ and then spend an inordinate amount of time, resources and energy to try and sell that product in the market.  Arguably, organisations with a central social objective should by definition not need to spend as much on this, as they should be responding to a social need and through their activities provide for that need to those that benefit from their work.

The area where social impact reporting and marketing meets manifests itself in Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) reporting.  It is admirable and to be encouraged that businesses report more holistically and include the positive impact that they are having on the environment, on people and on the wider culture.  But this is basically philanthropy.  Their core business, if you like, is to maximise profit for their owners or founders.  They also have wider impacts but they remain secondary to their core purpose.

Social enterprises, on the other hand should be reporting regularly on their core business with is positive social change.  Social enterprises should be assessed and judged on how well they are achieving their central purpose and the impact they are having.

Social impact reporting should not only be used for marketing but also to contribute to planning, to the management of the whole organisations, to review what has worked and what has not, to understanding priorities, to involve processes that listen to stakeholders, to understand costs and outcomes of differing strategies, and so on.  It is about reporting and accounting and not just a way of providing marketing information.

Social Accounting and Audit takes organisations through a process that asks for a regular review of the mission, values and objectives alongside an analysis of stakeholders (all those individuals and organisations that can affect an organisation and are affected by it).  It requires an ‘impact map’ identifying outputs and outcomes to emerge from the activities of an organisation.  This is followed by collection of quantitative and qualitative data that is brought together in an annual set of draft social accounts.  The social accounts should seek to accurately reflect the performance and impact of the organisation during the past year.  This ‘account’ then is subject to an independent audit and the revised draft becomes the social report.  The process runs parallel to the financial accounting and audit process.

A social report for social and community enterprises is about proving what your organisation has achieved – backing up the claims with evidence; improving as an organisation as inevitably decisions on the future will be based around hard facts; and finally, and this is of increasing importance, about being accountable to all stakeholders.

It is important to recognise that the audit checks the thoroughness and veracity of reporting and does not pass judgement.  The judgement about performance and impact is left to stakeholders and the report should be openly disclosed to them.  They then make a judgement about the organisation.

Some organisations going through regular social accounting and audit consider the final report as of huge importance.  I would argue that going through the process is equally important.

It would be a mistake to think of social impact reporting only in terms of how it can be used to market the organisation.

The quote from Chomsky at the start of this blog reflects the cynicism around marketing – claiming that it is only about businesses trying to persuading people to spend their money.

Social and community enterprises are more about responsibly and regularly reporting on how they have effected change that contributes to benefits for people and the wider society.   In social reporting what an organisation says it does should be as close as possible to what it actually does.

Telling people about what an organisation does is one thing; but doing this in order to sell more and more products and services is another…

…and never the twain should meet…

Alan Kay

Social Audit Network (SAN) www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk

Measuring social impact ‘is like quicksilver in the hand’

I was at a conference recently about the future of Volunteering where discussion arose about how to measure its impact. Representatives from volunteering organisers complained about the problem of commissioners expecting longitudinal measurement of the social impact of volunteering, when this is something that varies and changes on a day to day basis. This made me think of Dorothy Parker’s quote about quicksilver.  ‘Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it and it darts away’.

I learned that most people, especially the young, volunteer for a short period of time, or just for a one-off event. Tracking the difference that this has made for them and for society is nigh on impossible. (…and certainly would involve a huge amount of effort).

So if commissioners need to know the difference that something as ever-changing as volunteering is making, can this really be done? Should we clutch the quicksilver and try to make it fit into a box of metrics, or leave the hand open and watch it change?

The whole problem of tracking change over a long period of time is not being addressed by most social impact measurement approaches, which take a ‘snap shot’ or try to clutch at the truth of the impact (not always capturing the true picture and certainly not understanding it in the medium to long term…)

So I have two suggestions – one for the volunteering organisers and a follow-up for commissioners;

Organisers – look to the use of social accounting and audit, which at least tries to track social impact over time due to the regularity of the process… Use a repeated and robust measurement system as part of your daily business, and keep it there.

Commissioners – would you accept the ‘passporting’ of evidence about social impact. or learning from evaluation between projects if there was a robust social accounting system in place? Rather than expecting measurement in minute detail for a provider to receive payment, would you be happy if observed and assumed impact/outcomes could be shown in the longer term through independently verified social accounts?

Dorothy Parker’s original quote was about Love. I also learned that people volunteer because they care about something! Let’s not put them off by stifling this caring with form-filling and over-zealous counting of what they do.

Anne Lythgoe is Manager of Policy and Partnerships at Salford City Council and is supporting a partnership between the public and VCSE sectors in the City and Greater Manchester. More information can be found at www.salfordsocialvalue.org..uk

Anne is also a Director of the Social Audit Network. www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk

Twitter: @anne_lythgoe

Looking into the future development of social impact…

‘When eating an elephant take one bite at a time’ Creighton Abrams

Not without a great deal of hesitation, I want to try and look into the future and try and ‘see’ the future development of social enterprise and more particularly the role of social impact.  In attempting to predict how present trends will unwind in future years is a fairly dangerous game and one that is setting oneself up for a fall.  But here goes…one bite at a time.

As far as context goes we are living in an increasingly connected world with a globalised market.  Governments have shrinking control over the wider economy as large privately owned corporations play a more influential role in the shift from public sector to private ownership. Collective working and organised mutuality are frowned upon in the belief that society exists as the sum functioning individuals.

Over the next decades there will be increased inequality, a decrease in forms of united action by trade unions (or equivalent), welfare will become more dependent on philanthropy and at the behest of the super-rich, personal debt will rise and will continue to be used to control the mass of the population.  And despite the UK voting narrowly to stay in Europe there will be a rise in a destructive and xenophobic form of nationalism – dividing the ‘us’ from the ‘them’.

Amid this turmoil sits what can be referred to as the ‘third sector’.  This includes civic society, volunteering, business with social purpose, community development, clubs and societies.  In times gone by they might expect some form of support from the state as they aim to improve social and economic livelihoods.  In the future their funding will become more and more difficult and they will be pushed into working alongside and with private sector institutions.  Some of these institutions will be benign but some will expect the third sector organisations they support to ‘toe the line’ and act in their interests.

Some of the more established, and it has to be said, bigger voluntary enterprises will survive and grow at the expense of smaller organisations.  This will happen as competition rather than collaboration is encouraged and sanctified by the dispensers of funds and capital.

However, within this bleak landscape, I think there will be a counter swing at a local level.  As services to communities are gradually withdrawn, local people who are concerned with their community’s future will react by forming local multi-functional community based enterprises intent on improving the ‘good’ of the community.  The future of ‘social enterprise’ will be community.   It will be based on local mutual self-help and in a way that erases the divide between ‘economic’, ‘social’ and ‘environment’ impacts.  Instead it will try to address all these three aspects for the benefit of their particular community.

Essentially, there will be a split in the ‘social enterprise’ sector – and indeed the term ‘social enterprise’ will become more and more meaningless.  There will be large competitive organisations taking on government contracts alongside the private sector and they will operate so well in the market place that the difference between them and privately owned businesses will be academic.  Then, in the alternative direction, there will be the community-based enterprises hanging on to socialist and collective principles in the belief that solidarity and a sense of belonging can provide for the good of all.

So where does ‘social impact’ fit into all of this?  Looking into the crystal ball of the future, it is necessary to consider the past.  In the mid-2000s, just as social accounting and audit was beginning to gain traction, along came a US import in the form of Social Return on Investment (SROI).  It burst on the social reporting scene but over the years it has been increasingly criticised as an approach.  It is changing its spots and recognising that monetisation of outcomes is not an absolute necessity in measuring the impact social enterprises have on stakeholders.

In the future this trend will continue and there will be a gradual realisation that the focus in this area should be on regular and systematic reporting by all organisations that want to demonstrate to themselves and others the positive social and environmental changes that happen as a result of their activities.

Over the next decade, the split in the social enterprise ‘movement’ will be mirrored in a ‘split’ in the world of social impact.  On the one hand there will be an industry around social reporting with an array of tools, structures and off-the-shelf aids to help organisations report on their social impact. Despite this there will be confusion and a call for standardisation.  I should imagine Social Value UK and others will be at the forefront of this call – and possibly quite rightly.

On the other hand, there will be community based enterprises, operating at a small and local level who will look to report not only on the impact that they have but also on the type of organisation they are, their ethical credentials, and the way they deliver their impact.

This is where the Social Audit Network (SAN) comes in.  SAN was set up to support organisations in the community sector.  It was established to help organisations account for how they delivered change as well as the degree of change that happened as a result of what they did. In the past and currently there has been an emphasis on this two-fold approach.

In the next decade, I think there will be a shift to emphasise the auditing of social reports – and not so much on how social reporting can be done.

As the decade pans out, more and more people will realise that social reports can be written in many different ways while the developing standards should be around the audit process.  You can evaluate enterprises that have a social purpose with clever consultants going in and writing a report.  This is not sustainable in the short term and actually dis-empowers the enterprise.  Far better to get the organisation to take charge of its own monitoring and evaluation and then get it externally verified through a thorough and well-constructed audit.

SAN currently has a set procedure for the audit.  A set of criteria has been developed based around the principles of social accounting and audit.  All reports will be expected to include:

  • What the organisation is all about (Vision, Mission, Values, Objectives, Activities, expected Outputs and outcomes) and who it works with and for (stakeholders)
  • What the social report covers and what was done (Method, Scope, Omissions)
  • A checklist on internal functions or key aspects (Human Resources, Governance, ‘Asset Lock’’ Financial Sustainability, Environmental, Local Economic)
  • Report on outputs and outcomes (usually relating to the Objectives and through them back to the overall purpose)
  • Key findings, conclusions and future recommendations

Where does this leave us?  I think the global outlook is pretty horrendous and capitalism continues to wreak havoc on communities, societies, cultures and the environment. The glimmer of hope is through community action which will include community-owned enterprises and businesses.  But they want to know they are making a positive difference.  How do they do this?  I would argue through adopting and gradually introducing a form of social accounting with an audit attached that provides external and peer review to help them regularly keep track of what they do and how they do it.

We shall not be able to eat an elephant with one gulp – instead it will have to be eaten in small bites… (I can avow it was certainly not the elephant that said this!)

Alan Kay Social Audit Network (SAN) www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk