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Valuing the social? The nature and controversies of measuring social return on investment (SROI)

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The concept of 'social return on investment' (SROI) has come to play an important role in debates about how social enterprises and charities conceptualise, measure and communicate their achievements. In this paper we analyse the nature and role of SROI as used in the United Kingdom for impact assessment of such organisations. The paper offers insight into methodological and procedural aspects of the framework. Key issues explored include the quantification of benefits, the valuing of volunteering and the ways in which judgement and discretion are exercised. There is a particular tension between the participatory element in the design of each SROI exercise and its use for the purpose of competition. The paper concludes by proposing a research agenda that includes an examination of the context in which discretion and judgement are applied and the use and usefulness of SROI in the new policy and funding environment in which third sector organisations currently find themselves.
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Keywords: CHARITY; IMPACT; SOCIAL ENTERPRISE; SROI; VALUE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March, 2013

More about this publication?
  • Voluntary Sector Review publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed, accessible papers on third sector research, policy and practice. It is an invaluable cutting-edge resource for all those researching or working in the fast-growing voluntary, community and wider third sectors.

    The journal covers the full range of issues relevant to voluntary sector studies, including: definitional and theoretical debates; management and organisational development; financial and human resources; philanthropy; volunteering and employment; regulation and charity law; service delivery; civic engagement; industry and sub-sector dimensions; relations with other sectors; social enterprise; evaluation and impact. Voluntary Sector Review covers voluntary sector studies from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, social policy, politics, psychology, economics, business studies, social anthropology, philosophy and ethics. The journal includes work from the UK and Europe, and beyond, where cross-national comparisons are illuminating. With dedicated expert policy and practice sections, Voluntary Sector Review also provides an essential forum for the exchange of ideas and new thinking.

    Rigorous and stimulating, Voluntary Sector Review is an indispensable tool for everyone who values empirically-grounded, theoretically-informed and policy-relevant reviews of the future direction of the voluntary sector.

    Editors: Nick Acheson (Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland), Bernard Harris (University of Strathclyde, UK), Rob Macmillan, (University of Birmingham, UK)

    The journal is published in association with the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) and a print copy of the journal is a membership benefit.

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