In the context of social impact measurement, a method refers to a relatively standardized process used to evaluate the activities and effects of an organization.
TIESS has published summary sheets on eleven different methods:
- Cost-benefit analysis (CBA)
- Demonstrating Value (DV)
- Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
- Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS)
- The Quebec Input-Output Model (MISQ)
- Social Return on Investment (SROI)
- Evaluation of Social Usefulness (US)
- Theory of Change (ToC)
- Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
- The B Corp certification (B Corp)
- Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT)
In order to help you identify which method is best suitable for which purpose, we invite you to refer to the following tables and diagrams. The first one organizes the methods according to the reasons for being interested in social impact measurement. The second table takes up these main perspectives and shows to what extent a given method is adapted to cover the various stages of an action.
Caution: We do not recommend starting an evaluation process by choosing a method. Instead, you should begin by identifying your needs and objectives, which will then allow you to choose the best method for you. Further, a person wishing to evaluate the impact of a social economy enterprise will generally not apply a method in its entirety but instead use it as inspiration in developing his or her own in-house method.
Organization of methods according to their main purpose
Organization of methods according to the steps they focus on
Clarification and improvement: Methods focused on clarification and improvement are aimed at understanding, explaining and then improving the intervention; they cover all the objects of the logic model. Evidence of impact is, however, secondary to the clarification of needs, objectives and the means used to achieve them. Example: the theory of change.
Accountability perspective: Accountability approaches focus primarily on activities (processes) and outputs. They are intended to demonstrate to an external audience that the organization is taking extra-financial indicators into consideration in its management. Example: the Global Reporting Initiative.
Demonstrating impact perspective: Strategies to demonstrate impact aim to convince an external audience of the value of an action. This can be achieved by highlighting economic benefits (MISQ), assigning a monetary value to benefits that are traditionally not traded on the market (CBA and SROI), or reaffirming the value of these non-market benefits in a broader policy process (US). The focus, from the perspective of the logic model (to be discussed later on), are the outcomes. Example: Social Return on Investment.
Research perspective: These are the only methods that truly attempt to measure impact in the sense of proving that an intervention has generated certain outcomes. In this sense, their focus is on impact. Example: randomized controlled trials.
The logic model is a picture of how the intervention works, an illustration of the theory and assumptions behind it.
Let’s take the hypothetical case of a government program to reduce speeding on roads. The desired impact is the reduction of fatal road crashes. To achieve this, the government invests resources (input) to carry out the activity of designing an awareness campaign. The output produced by this activity are advisories encouraging drivers to reduce their speed. Speed reduction will be the desired immediate outcome. To evaluate the impact of this program, it will therefore be necessary to consider the changes observed as well as the external factors that may have influenced this result.
In addition to the above-mentioned methods, there are concepts which, though not (or no longer) appropriate for social economy enterprises or groups seeking to measure their social impact, are nevertheless noteworthy. The following links discuss these concepts.
- Social impact assessment according to the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA)
- The coop index
- The notions of social accounting, reporting and auditing
- The societal assessment of the Centre des jeunes dirigeants de l’économie sociale (CJDES), in France (in French)
- Developmental evaluation (in French)
- Outcome mapping
- Health impact assessment (in French)
- Community development indicators (in French)
- The Social Enterprise Balanced Scorecard
- The Most Significant Change technique
- The Social Practices Evaluation Model (in French)
- The Measurement and Monitoring of Social Impact (MESIS) model (in French)
- Case studies
- Focus groups
- 20 short chapters about social science research methods relevant to the field of evaluation, by IEG – World Bank
Want to know more?
- Measuring social impact: Definition and main steps
- Why and for whom to evaluate?
- Relevant resources: Passerelles (in French)
- Which indicators?
- Examples of the application of some of these methods: Impact of the social economy in Quebec and Canada