What is Social Impact?

There is no one definition of the term or concept, but when we talk about ‘social impact measurement’ we are talking about understanding the effects on various people that happen as a result of an action, activity, project, programme or policy. The ‘impact’ of this action or activity can be positive or negative, and can be intended or unintended, or a combination of all of these. An activity can have immediate and direct impact on certain people, but it can also have a more far reaching effect on people, organisations, institutions and entities which are not directly engaging with it. They might not even know they are being affected at all, but the ‘impact’ of the action might be very significant to them.

A common way to think about social impact, from a social impact measurement point of view, is to consider it as the change that happens for people as a result of an action or activity. Since third sector organisations, their funders, government and public sector agencies, and some commercial businesses are often concerned with making positive changes happen for people and society, understanding the amount of change created by an activity can be very important when planning, designing, commissioning, funding or purchasing services.

When we think about measuring, assessing or evaluating social impact we are naturally focusing on the results of an activity, and not on the activity itself. For this reason, you could say that social impact assessments and evaluation focuses on the OUTCOMES of an activity, and not on the processes or outputs that make up an activity.

There are a number of different philosophies, methods and tools associated with the concept of ‘social impact’ and impact measurement, depending on the perspective of the stakeholder undertaking the evaluation. This site doesn’t provide information on all of these ideas and approaches, but aims to offer a starting point for those interested in finding out more, as well as offering some more detailed information on the better know approaches to understanding and measuring the impact of a policy, activity, service or spend.

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