Despite significant progress in some areas, there are still many things broken in our world: poverty is still prevalent, gross inequalities exist and the environment is being destroyed. We need to find different ways of holding governments, investors, organisations and individuals accountable for their actions. To do this, we need know what to measure, how to measure it, how valuable it is, and how to report it.
This is where the ideas behind social value and the growing Social Value International (SVI) network is playing a critical role. SVI is a group of 45 networks around the world working towards greater accountability and measurement practices, through the consideration of social value. SIMNA is one of the national member networks, and we are proud to be one of the largest and most active networks. SIMNA members now have access to the SVI members area and this fantastic resource.
Social value is an emerging area that sits at the juncture between many different disciplines, such as evaluation, accounting, management consulting and investment (both financial and social). It can therefore be difficult to really hone in on exactly what social value is and how we measure it. Social Value International defines social value as “the quantification of the relative importance that people place on the changes they experience in their lives.” It is therefore about the preferences that people have about their lives and their environment, and how an investment into a program or activity can change that. And we need to understand, measure, value and report on this, so that better decisions can be made.
Central to understanding social value is to appreciate the power dynamic in play: those with more power have the opportunity to tell the stories and shape policy. Accounting for social value aims to give those with less power the ability to have their stories heard, which includes describing what changes have happened for them (good or bad; intended or unintended), how we know it has happened, and the relative importance of different changes.
Historically, social value has been affiliated with Social Return on Investment (SROI). This included the need to use financial proxies to value outcomes for different people. But this is evolving: the merger of the SROI Network and the Social Impact Analysts Association in 2014, to form SVI, also resulted in the agreement of the Seven Principles of Social Value. These principles provide the basic building blocks for anyone who wants to make decisions to take a wider definition of value into account, i.e. accounting for value that goes beyond current economic market values. Using financial proxies is still encouraged, but for example, it may be more appropriate to understand the relative importance of changes that someone experiences without using financial proxies. This is dependent on what you are trying to achieve through the thinking or project, who for, and how rigorous you need to be.
Accounting for social value has huge potential to help change how we understand the world around us and make decisions about where to invest. At SIMNA, we believe that anyone can start to account for their social value, no matter the size of the organisation or the amount of resources available. We must give it a go, share, learn, reflect and improve.
Simon Faivel, February 2018
Simon is SIMNA’s Chair. He is Co-Chair of Social Value International (SVI) and a Director at Social Ventures Australia (SVA)