Social impact measurement amongst social enterprises

Barraket, J. & Yousefpour, N. (2013). Evaluation and Social Impact Measurement Amongst Small to Medium Social Enterprises: Process, Purpose and Value. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 72(4), 447–458.

Works like those of Epstein and Yuthas and the IIRC are aimed across sectors. Other experts write specifically about outcomes and impact measurement for particular groups. Professor Barraket, the recently appointed Director at the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, and her co-author Yousefpour, for example, examine the benefits and challenges of social impact measurement (SIM) experienced by social enterprises (SEs)[1].

Barraket and Yousefpour’s article fills a gap in the lack of discourse on the value of measurement for SEs, their funders or the communities they serve, and the SIM needs of external stakeholders. While the existing literature suggests SIM can improve performance or access to markets, Barraket and Yousefpour’s research found that “compliance demands of existing grant funders” were a primary motivation for measurement. The article outlines the challenges, perceived benefits, and the effects on learning and performance SEs experience in undertaking SIM (see Table 1).


While this article focuses on SEs, the insights, key questions and recommendations are relevant for other social purpose initiatives measuring their social impact.

Table 1: Challenges, benefits and use of social impact measurement among SEs

What are the challenges? What are the perceived benefits of/ motivations for SIM? Organisational outcomes and learning
Resource issuesOrganisational challenges of collecting and analysing data over timeChallenges in applying tools and approaches

Complexity of evaluation and impact measurement

Operationalising ‘immeasurable’ outcomes

Lack of consistency in organisational data

Lack of board and senior support

Planning for and introducing process into dynamic organisational contexts

Improve performanceAccess resourcesBuild organisational legitimacy

Organisational learning and development

Communicating outcomes

Organisational knowledge of client satisfaction and needs

Celebrating achievements

Benchmarking outcomes

Compliance with funding or conditions for funding

Organisational legitimacyNew market/opportunitiesCommunicate and celebrate shared outcomes with beneficiaries and communities

Improve services

Funding obligations

Source: adapted from Barraket & Yousefpour (2013)

Barraket & Yousefpour outline key recommendations for SEs considering or undertaking SIM:

  1. 1.     Understand the purpose of impact measurement to frame the how and the what: SEs should understand the purpose for undertaking SIM. This will assist in framing the “how and what to measure”. Without clarity on why SEs are trying to measure, what evidence is required, who SEs will be reporting to and how others will use the evidence, there is a risk that inappropriate approaches impractical indicators could be selected.
  2. 2.     Understand different stakeholders’ needs in relation to measuring and communicating SIM: External stakeholders are important, however, often little is known about their needs and how they use the outputs of SIM in practice.  Understanding stakeholders’ needs are crucial to guide purpose and practice of SIM, particularly in situations with multiple competing interests, reporting and compliance requirements.
  3. Make sure attention is paid to organisational ‘readiness’ for SIM: Organisational ‘readiness’ is the cultivation and development of organisational culture and leadership and the development of skills and capacity for SIM. Developing organisational ‘readiness’ should be the first practical step for organisations considering SIM, to prepare to navigate the barriers and challenges to effective measurement.


While this article focuses on SEs, the insights, key questions and recommendations are relevant for other social purpose initiatives measuring their social impact.

Stephen Bennett
Research Officer, the Centre for Social Impact

[1] Defined as “organisations that exist to generate a public or community benefit, trade to fulfil their mission and reinvest a substantial proportion of their income in the fulfilment of their mission”.

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