Social Return on Investment (SROI)

Working and briefing paper: no.49

With the growing interest in measuring the social impact of third sector activities, there have been a range of approaches developed. One of these, social return on investment (SROI) has received particular attention and is being promoted by third sector organisations, as well as public and private bodies.

This paper examines this approach in detail and identifies a series of issues that require further investigation. These include technical and methodological issues related to this adjusted cost-benefit analysis such as quantifying the value of social benefits, and attribution; the judgement involved in setting indicators; whether projects deemed successful based on an SROI analysis can provide the basis for replicability and scaling up; and the ways in which SROI is being used by stakeholders.

Through examining these challenges in detail, the approaches to measuring social impact can be strengthened, standardised and made more rigorous. While the issues raised here are essential to developing SROI further, they are also valid for more general discussions regarding the proving and improving of the value added by the UK third sector.

Research contacts:
Dr Malin Arvidson, Professor Fergus Lyon, Professor Stephen McKay and Dr Domenico Moro