Fresh thinking on social impact

By Lizzie Trotter - on 31/03/2014

HACT's Social Impact Measurement Adviser Lizzie Trotter comments on the big step forward HACT has made to social impact measurement in the UK housing sector.

If someone had told me a few years ago I’d be working with an economist to measure social impact, I would’ve told them they were suffering from Substitution Bias and to fiscal off. Since we’ve been working with Daniel Fujiwara, an Economist at LSE, I’ve seen economics with fresh eyes. A new relevance has been revealed through a brilliantly robust way to assess and measure the results of community projects.

The same questions are being asked; what difference does our community investment make? How can we get accurate results? Will they be credible and meaningful to the boss? Does measurement have to be disproportionately expensive?

Housing providers often invest in a range of community activities to meet the needs of their tenants. To measure the effect of these can be a challenge and comparing results even more so. However, whether it’s tackling anti-social behaviour, increasing employability, improving health, or sorting out a neighbour noise problem, social interventions principally aim to do the same thing; to increase wellbeing.

Wellbeing Valuation is a nifty way to understand how social interventions affect individuals’ wellbeing. At its core, is the sophisticated statistical analysis of datasets. National surveys go on all the time collecting data from average folk about their lives. For example, the British Household Panel survey (BHPS) has been completed by the same 10,000 individuals each year since 1991. There’s a question that asks people to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 1-10, followed by 385 pages of questions on (almost) all aspects of life; if they feel safe in their neighbourhood, whether they volunteer, how often they go to the zoo and so on.  

Analysis can isolate how a specific answer impacts on an individual’s life satisfaction. Because these datasets are so vast, the effect of a life circumstance or situation to the average person can be confidently revealed.

At the same time, we can access income data to reveal the amount of money that results in an equivalent increase in wellbeing.

Ok, an example. Let’s say analysis revealed that living in a safe area increased average life satisfaction by one index point. We then find that £2,000 also on average increases life satisfaction by one index point. We can therefore say that living in a safe area is worth £2,000.

We recently launched the Social Value Bank full of values relevant to community investment activities, and developed the guide that shows how to apply them. While developing the practical application of the values has taken some head-scratching, we’re confident we’ve developed a proportionate, yet robust way to do a basic assessment of your social impact. Value Insight, a social impact sister site to Community Insight is currently being beta-tested.

While this represents a big step forward for the social housing sector and beyond, we are aware this is very much Version 1.0. We are keen to learn how people will use the values, the questions that come up and the gaps that appear. We look forward to hearing from you…


Access and download HACT's 'Measuring the Social Impact of Community Investment: A Guide to using the Wellbeing Valuation Approach' publication

Find out more about HACT's work on social impact in the housing sector

Book on to a HACT Impact Materclass - an interactive way to learn and apply the theory to your organisation.

Social Impactwellbeing valuationimpact measurementCommunity Insight

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