Thursday, November 21, 2019

reporting social impact - 150 years in, and 8,000 to go...

If you're getting involved with starting to report social value/impact, and find yourself confused about all the different models, standards, bodies, and approaches, then don't panic - you're right where you should expect to be!

Preparing 'social accounts' is often likened to the preparation of a set of financial accounts - tracking what resources have been used, and what's changed (good or bad) at the end of a period.

However - as a species, we've been collectively agreeing how to 'do' financial accounts for about 8 millennia (the earliest reference I can find dates back to about 8,000BC in ancient Sumeria...). But we've only really been doing 'social' accounts for about 150 (the earliest references I'm aware of are co-operative societies in the mid nineteen century sharing how they were impacting on their members and communities).

So if we've been working on agreeing consistent standards and approaches for financial accounts for this long, why is there the sense of urgency and panic to nail the way in which we report the social value and impact alongside the financial stuff?

And just to add to the complication, financial accounting had only a few key audiences who were interested that it was gotten 'right' (investors, regulators, government), whereas social value and impact has far wider groups that it needs to satisfy (providers, commissioners, communities, employees, beneficiaries, customers, grant making bodies, policy makers, and so on and so on...)

So isn't it about time we stopped panicking that we've not yet reached a global consensus on the measures we should all be using when we talk about our value and impact..?

Monday, November 11, 2019

the problems with prioritising social value maybe aren't that straightforward...

Having worked in the 'social value' arena for about 20 years now in guises ranging from developing reporting toolkits for national sector bodies, supporting national programmes from the likes of nef and Social Investment Business, and delivering masterclasses with commissioners and individual groups, there seems to remain a widespread frustration as to why more charities, social enterprises, businesses, and others simply aren't getting on with just (fukcing) doing it...

And I have an idea (well, several in fact) as to why despite the rhetoric and good intentions, it's proving so hard for so many to start with even the first steps of starting to think about how they capture and report the impact they're already making, let alone start to grow it to benefit more people and communities in need:

1) most groups and businesses face a daily trade-off between investing in systems and processes, and being able to 'keep the lights on' - until we can find better ways of presenting the imperative of social value reporting in the context of their current operating pressures and immediate consequences, then it'll always be being put off to the next month...

2) despite social value now being a compliance thing for charities, companies, and even societies (public benefit reporting requirements, legal responsibilities of company directors, and such like), there's little by way of enforcement by these respective regulatory bodies - so if there's no stick, then what's the motivation..?

3) the introduction of the social value act in 2012 was going to herald a new era of social value in public procurement - except it's not that obvious or widespread yet (with most contracts only giving a 5% weighing to social value)

4) we see grant making trusts and bodies seemingly at odds with each other in how they're prioritising social value and impact, with some being so vague as to leave the applying groups more confused, and others contradicting each other, so is it any wonder that charities applying to them are focusing more on outputs and budgets than outcomes..?

5) and the 'professionalisation' of reporting our social value (despite it originating within the social enterprise sector) is starting to see our own people becoming disenfranchised and demotivated when they're asked to start to report and manage it, according to recent research papers...

So is it any wonder why despite the efforts of nationally funded programmes, sector bodies, and rhetoric of others, that 2 decades in, we're still seeing so many groups struggling to begin to even engage with social value, let alone report, manage, and develop it..?

Maybe we need to create more carrots to incentivise and nudge behaviours and thinking, rather than relying on an approach of 'tell people why it's so important, and they're bound to come round...' (after all - how many of us actually manage our recommended '5-a-day' of fruit and vegetables, or religiously floss after every meal, despite knowing how important both are...?)