Finding the hidden value in social support programs

Social Dimensions is currently reviewing a men’s health program and are faced with the problem common to all evaluators tackling a program which operates on many levels and has outcomes which are difficult to measure.

Fortunately a now forgotten Twitter link led me to an outstanding study of the effectiveness of women’s organisations in the UK.  Hidden Value presents Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis for several organisations working with some of that country’s most vulnerable women.  For the evaluator the strength of the report is in how they modified their approach to capture the unique input of each organisation.

Their method is one which would make McKinsey proud.  It is all about structure. The evaluators made what they called “impacts map” for each program by workshopping with staff and board members the core activities and the benefits that each activity brought to their clients.  For example, a drop-in centre might bring self-esteem, opportunities for improved English and ultimately, employment.  Once there is a map, they used administrative records, surveys of clients and intelligent guess work to estimate the magnitude of the impact (amount of improvement for what proportion of clients).  To complete their analysis they collect cost and benefit data for the organisation, individual clients and their families and the wider society.

I tried an impact map for the men’s health organisation.  I created an empty shape space in MS Word and put in boxes to represent their activities.  Then I went through my notes with staff, board members, funders and collaborators to find out what they thought were how men and communities benefited.  Lastly I linked activities to impacts making sure that that link made sense and that I had been  given real examples of those activities having that effect.  I renamed a few boxes, changed the lines and the order around and, presto, I had an impact map.  I am using the diagram to structure my report and the information I collected.  I think that the organisation will love looking at a picture without too many words rather than reading my lengthy report.

Try making an impact map for your organisation.  You will be surprised how an impact map makes it easier to explain what you are doing and how you are making a difference.

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