Measuring the value of social and community impact


The roles of social enterprises are shifting, and the sector has seen a period of unprecedented change. As the role of social enterprise in public services increases,
there is a growing need to measure their impact and benefit.

Originally seen primarily as a way of meeting the social needs of deprived local communities, social enterprise is now seen to play a greater role in the competitive market, both within the private sector and within the markets for public services. It is the latter set of activities that is of particular interest here as social enterprises increasingly become delivery agents for the state - working in competition with other parts of the private, public and third sectors. Little is known about the impact of the third sector with regard to delivery of public services, and there is an urgent need to measure the social and community benefit.

There is a need to go beyond the ‘boosterist’ analyses of successful case studies and include more critical appraisals of impacts (both positive and negative). Comparisons need to be made between social enterprises and other forms of public service delivery, and this information needs to be disseminated. This requires investment in research and auditing, as well as a degree of bravery within the third sector. Without this, we risk losing the chance to learn from successes and failures, repeating mistakes and damaging the reputation of the sector in the long term.

This essay will examine the different approaches to measurement. It will distinguish between the need for individual organisations to measure their impact, and the need for larger scale studies that examine the impact of social enterprises more generally and provide an evidence base for policy makers. Looking forward, the opportunities and challenges are also presented.

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This research paper was published by The Smith Institute, Social Enterprise for Public Service: how does the third sector deliver?