Social Return on Investment
I'm currently working on a Social Return on Investment analysis with Hull Museums, as part of my evaluation work for the Yorkshire Precious Cargo programme. I've done two days of training with the SROI network to enable me to use the methodology, and am working towards becoming a fully accredited practitioner. There's been a fair amount of interest in SROI among the cultural sector lately, so I thought it might be worthwhile to blog some of the links and reports I've found useful.
What is Social Return on Investment?
SROI is a methodology used to measure the social and environmental impacts created by people and organisations and represent them in monetary terms. Traditional accounting systems prioritise financial information, and can therefore undervalue social and environmental benefits. SROI measures those non-financial outcomes. It enables organisations to tell a full story of the value they create and express it in a way that economists and policymakers can recognise. One of the key principles of an SROI analysis is that it's rooted in stakeholder engagement, with a particular focus on the benefits to end users. Ultimately it aims to support better decisionmaking by helping organisations understand the impact - both intended and unintended - of their work.
SROI is a specific and complex methodology. I've put some links to further information at the bottom of the page.
Why does this matter to museums?
Museums have typically been poor at defining and articulating their value to society in a consistent, externally recognised way. SROI offers one way of capturing and putting a value on the outcomes that we often grapple with as unquantifiable - the benefits of increased self-esteem for people taking part in a drawing class, for example, or the role a museum plays in building bridges between different sections of the community. There's still a tendency for museum evaluation to be fluffy around the edges despite initiatives such as the Generic Learning and Generic Social Outcomes frameworks to introduce some consistency (www.inspiringlearningforall.gov.uk). Personally I'm interested in exploring a tried and tested, externally verifiable methodology that can introduce some rigour into the difficult task of identifying and articulating the value we create through engagement with museum collections, buildings and people.
If you're interested in how SROI could work in a museum context I would recommend looking into work done at the Museum of East Anglian Life. The museum commissioned an SROI analysis to look at the value of their Work Based Learning programme. There's a summary available on museum director Tony Butler's blog and the full report at the MEAL website. And watch this space for further updates on my own SROI work.
nef (New Economics Foundation) has information on SROI and public policy, with a link to the UK Cabinet Office guide to SROI. nef has also written a discussion paper commissioned by MLA entitled 'Proving Value and Improving Practice: A Discussion about Social Return on Investment' (2009)
The SROI Project is a Scottish Government-funded programme designed to develop, support and promote the use of SROI across the third sector in Scotland. This is a really helpful website with examples of how the different stages of the methodology work and a database of financial proxies.
The SROI network is a limited company and membership organisation that exists to manage and develop the methodology and provide training for practitioners. The website contains further details of the methodology, training and accreditation, with sample SROI reports.
The thinktank New Philanthropy Capital has produced a number of papers including a position paper that outlines the pros and cons of SROI for charities.
The thinktank DEMOS has produced a report on measuring social value that focuses on the ability of the third sector to adopt methods such as SROI. It recognises problems of resource and complexity and argues for a basic and universal standard of outcome measurement as a first stage.
Dr Dave O'Brien at Leeds Metropolitan University has written a report for DCMS called 'Measuring the Value of Culture' (Dec 2010) that outlines the issues involved in valuing culture and recommends further research into economic valuation methods. In his blog he argues for the cultural sector to take a serious look at economic valuation methods if we are to survive in the current political climate.
The Third Sector Research Centre produced a very useful working paper, 'The Ambitions and Challenges of SROI' (Dec 2010), a thoughtful analysis of the benefits and weaknesses of the SROI methodology for third sector organisations.
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