Conducting Social Impact Assessment

The pressure to ‘prove impact’ for social investment and community development interventions is increasing. It is now generally accepted that evaluation needs to evolve from its earlier focus on assessing outputs and outcomes to directly addressing social impact. Development partners are increasingly seeking to improve their social impact assessment approaches and techniques to help them make their impact findings robust – although there are methodological challenges to be overcome.

In order to develop and apply social impact assessments that measure a level of vitality and well-being (sustainability) in any community development program, there is a need to initially define the meanings and scope of the application. Measuring the well-being of a community is a complex task: no single measure can adequately assess whether the quality of life of the community is improving. Rather, a range of measures that address social, economic and environmental dimensions are entwined.

Social impact assessment must differentiate between direct and indirect impact

Furthermore, social impact assessment and indicator frameworks that aim to measure community sustainability and well-being must draw a distinction between the direct and indirect impacts that an organisation may exert on a community through its community investment and development activities.

Assessing what may constitute a direct or indirect impact in community development is inherently challenging, particularly in communities in which a single organisation or industry sector may dominate, and in which community activities and members substantially overlap and intersect. For instance, the impact of neighbouring business (other corporate/donor partners) and their specific social investment, community development and enterprise development programs, and/or other developmental interventions in the same communities.

This is further complicated by balancing the variant range and complexity of the communities in which donors operate and invest in (i.e. rural, urban, peri-urban) and against the provision of meaningful and reliable data suitable for cross-community comparison and benchmarking.

Next Generation Consultants has overcome these complexities with our integrated approach:

  • By understanding the strategic environment, we look for indicators to measure not only strategic objectives, but also to identify indicators that will measure the return of investment for the organisation.
  • By reviewing the operational environment, we determine effectiveness and efficiencies as well as identify indicators to measure specific organisational and development impact. Additionally this provides insight for the proposed SWOT and GAP analysis of the community and social investment and development strategies.
  • By auditing the program environment, we are able to distil 1) the value chain 2) the stakeholders 3) aspects of impact and 4) reach of impact.
  • Our social impact assessment formula is based on the international standard of the impact value chain. However, our model specifically extends and explores two aspects which differentiate our methodology from existing practice. We focus extensively on the impact and return aspect, assuming our clients understand, document, evaluate and monitor the inputs, outputs and outcomes of their own management practice.

The basic premise on which our work rests is that there is impact for beneficiary communities/recipients and return for the business. This ‘shared value’ principle is integrated into all social and socio-economic development models in South Africa and Africa. In our model we use the focus area/portfolio to determine the impact, which is then clearly segmented in both qualitative and quantitative indicators for these two community groups – beneficiaries and the business.