A crucial time for impact measurement: New research explores lessons being learnt in the housing sector


The Information daily reports on the importance of the social impact research conducted by HACT and Third Sector Research Centre.

13 April 2012.

This aricle was published on The Information Daily on 13 April 2012.

Housing organisations are investing around £435 million a year into community based activities beyond their housing management services (NHF Audit, 2008). Many now recognise the need to measure the social impact of these activities. As one manager put it, while they believed they were doing the right thing “there is now a need to turn this ‘gut feeling’ into a more robust and watertight argument which can stand up to scrutiny”.

Research conducted for hact by the Third Sector Research Centre  has shown wide variations in the current approaches used by housing organisations to measure the impact of their community investment activities.   The survey (via telephone interview with 34 housing organisations) showed that organisations are at very different stages in measuring impact, but there was a clear understanding and willingness to do so.  The main drivers for the adoption or development of measurement tools were linked to accountability (both within the organisations and for tenants and funders) and a desire to ensure that projects are being delivered effectively and are relevant to community needs.

The research questioned organisations on whether they had bought in or developed their own impact measurement systems. From the 34 organisations questioned, eleven externally developed tools were being used and an additional 35% of respondents were using tools which had been developed within their own organisation.  The measurement approaches covered a whole spectrum, ranging from the manual completion of forms to experimenting with social accounting and Social Return on Investment.  

No one single organisation was confident that they had the ideal approach or measurement tool in place, with a widespread appreciation that this is an area of rapid development which needs to be constantly monitored and developed. 

Satisfaction levels with the effectiveness of the tools were generally higher with externally bought in tools compared to those developed internally.   Over 65% of organisations using internally developed tools anticipated changing them within the next 12 months compared to a lower 40% from those organisations using externally developed tools.

Confirming previous research, there was an appreciation that a holy grail of a single tool which would be suitable to measure all activities is improbable; rather the diverse community activities and interventions require a toolkit approach.   Most organisations struggled with the development of outcome measures, being uncertain that they would accurately measure the outcomes that they were intended to measure.

During the research, areas of concern became apparent. Organisations who had less resources dedicated to community investment activities highlighted tensions between allocating those limited resources to ‘getting the job done’ against the process of impact measurement which is perceived to demand a significant investment  of time and money.

Although six in ten organisations had not worked in a partnership capacity whilst developing or adopting a tools, there was an acknowledgement that this is an area which is likely to increase in the future. Organisations envisaged increased partnership working with the police, local health services and other housing organisations, however limited resources were mentioned as a barrier to the growth of this.

With  the issue of social impact measurement being high on the agenda for many organisations,  there is concern within the sector about potential duplication of effort. There is a clear benefit in more collaborative sharing of ideas to consider how much impact different approaches to community investment can have. Furthermore, at a time of political scepticism about the role of social housing it is important to establish what evidence there is of a wider community impact.


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Read more information about HACT's work on social impact.