Impact Questions

Dr Adam RichardsDr Adam Richards Blog - 07/12/2018

People often ask us how to measure social value/impacts – and before we can even answer, sometimes people will tell us that it is far too complicated and expensive. Well, I suppose it can be, but it doesn’t have to be.

Before I outline how it should only ever be done proportionally, we need to look at that word ‘measure’, because I think the answer to all of the issues lies in that one word.

Please don’t think that I’m about to go into much detail about research methods, because we don’t need to – what we do need more than examine how we measure though is understand why we want to measure in the first place.

Too often, when we hear or think of measurement, it is because someone else is asking (or demanding) for proof or evidence of how effective or successful we were at doing something. And yes, this is important – we should not be resistant to showing that we have changed people’s lives for the better and that we have helped to spend money wisely. But we should see measurement as far more than this – measure yes, but what about using this information to manage? Because managing means to do even better, be even more successful, and change people’s lives as much as we can with the resources we have.

In the world of financial value, accounts and reports are produced not just to show people how effective they have been. They are all created to influence certain people to make choices between different options – if they are a shareholder, their choice is to invest in one opportunity or another – if they are a board member, their choice is to do this project or another – if they are a manager, their choice is to do a project this way or another. Whatever the audience, they have a purpose. So, why when we produce social value/impact reports, do we often see them as just a way of communicating the results of our work to others?

For me, this is often the biggest challenge for people, but it also becomes the key to understanding the importance of measuring. If we see the information that is produced by asking people what has changed for them and how valuable these changes are (using the language of money, or not), we should see opportunities to do more good (as well as possibly reducing any negative outcomes we create). And possibly the greatest implication of this is that we do not have to always produce information that is of the highest quality, that includes scientific tests, or costs vast amounts of resources.

There is a phrase we use regularly, and that is enough precision, for the decision. Put simply, it means we just need evidence that is good enough to support the decision we are seeking to support. Yes, if we want to change government policy we will need to be very precise. But, if we are wanting to look at different ways to deliver our work to make it better, we will not.

I am not saying that any evidence is necessarily good evidence. But if we have included the people whose lives have been affected by our activities, and given them the opportunity to identify what has changed for them (not just if our goals have been achieved), and how important the changes are, then we are on the way to having some really useful evidence.

Ok, I appreciate that we may still see challenges, and of course there are. But if we start from a position that says, we will use the information to help us make decisions, perhaps some of the challenges of wanting false and unnecessary precision start to reduce, as hopefully does the excuse that we cannot collect evidence as it costs too much (let’s not forget the risk that if we don’t collect evidence from our stakeholders, we may not be helping them as much as we can).

Those of us working in social value/impacts are seeing a growing acceptance and convergence around 10 impact questions that can help us to measure and manage our impacts. This means that we can still produce reports for others that show how effective we were, but it also helps us to change people’s lives even more – they are not mutually exclusive.

The ten impact questions are outlined on Social Value UK’s website, and can be found at;

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