Social Impact - new terminology for a very old concept

Having attended (and been truly inspired by) a recent SVUK Impact Management Programme peer event, Katie Simpson started to think about what social impact means to her and her organisation, BrightSparks.

Social Impact is the new buzz term that everyone is trying to prove that they have. I wholeheartedly agree that social impact is a force for all things good in society, it is the foundation and ethos for what my community interest company is built upon. But I think it might be up-cycled terminology, rather than a new concept. For example;

  • Impact measurement is not new. Social purpose organisations have been trying to justify their existence forever in order to attract new funding beneficiaries and plaudits.
  • Empowering people to make decisions which affect their lives is not new. Think forums, service user engagement, voice and influence groups.
  • Partnership working is not new. Partnerships can be found anywhere and everywhere that people want to change or improve something.
  • Co-production has been on the go for years now, to varying degrees.

For me these are the key ingredients of social impact. So I have to ask the question;

What’s so new about social impact?

I’ve been working for many years now, particularly in the sectors of health, education and social care and the idea of collaboration and co-production has been kicked around for some time. Now it seems to be embedded. It is not the optional extra, the token gesture, but a staple of local practice and statutory law.

Co-production is about having a more equal partnership between those who use a service and those who design services. Simple.

The logic behind it is that it goes beyond the tick box of engagement and consultation and is a more meaningful way of ensuring that the power dynamic is equitable, based on a shared way of working together to bring about improvements or social change.

However measuring the impact that is generated from this type of collaborative, co-productive working approach has been hard to pin down as it is not automatically visible in the quantitative driven management reports that fly around senior leadership teams and board rooms.

But trust me when you start to look at the qualitative metrics like the service user stories, the case studies, the sense of joint ownership for making a difference, then it’s plain to see that the impact is not just in the pounds and pence savings that are possible but in the collective social enrichment to the lives and working practices of service users, practitioners, social purpose organisations and communities.

The benefits are social as well as economic.

So long live partnerships, co-production, working together (what ever you want to call it) to make and measure social impact. We have all been doing these things for years so let’s keep doing them because working together for social good is what drives my organisation, and is the reason I love my work.

The Impact Management Programme, is a prime example of organisations coming together to build the capacity of charities and social enterprises to manage their impact. I joined the Impact Management Programme Peer Network to learn, create partnerships and expand my knowledge of measuring impact.

As a result of being part of the peer network I have learned so much about other organisation, created great contacts and reflected on the research my organisation carries out. The benefits have been immense.

Check out BrightSparks website to find out more about how we help people and organisations to generate social impact.