Terminology

Be better equipped with impact vocabulary by reviewing this glossary and quick reference guide to terms used in social impact and value practice.

The social impact field has more than its fair share of jargon.  If you want to be better equipped with impact vocabulary then this glossary might serve as a useful quick reference.

·         Activities – Actions or tasks that are performed in support of a specific impact objective, for example planting trees, or delivering training.

·         Additionality – The amount of additional value or outcome that has been contributed by an intervention, above and beyond what would have happened anyway.  A synonym for impact – see below.

·         Assumptions – The underlying beliefs about how an intervention will create your intended change.  This includes beliefs on: the causal relationship between activities and outcomes; the build-up of outcomes; and the influence of the context and external factors.

·         Attribution - The portion of any outcomes that can be claimed by your intervention.  It is the slice of the pie, normally expressed as a percentage that was driven by your work relative to other influences such as other services.   In organisations engaged in direct delivery, determining the level of attribution for outcomes can be relatively straightforward by engaging with beneficiaries and wider stakeholders. It becomes more complex when organisations work in partnership with others (see collective impact below).

·          Benefit period – The period of time between which outcomes begin and end.  This is distinct from the intervention period which may be shorter and the benefits may persist long after the activity is complete. Impact modelling calculates total value based on the length of time that benefits last. Also see drop-off.

·         Collective impact – Impact initiatives that involve multiple actors co-operating to achieve a common agenda, undertaking mutually reinforcing activities, tracking progress using shared measurement, continuously communicating with a dedicated backbone co-ordinating group.  To find out more see the Collective Impact Forum site.

·         Co-production - Citizens and professionals sharing power to design, deliver and evaluate better social services. In this approach service users and wider stakeholders are seen as assets and their capabilities are used to embed the service into a community.

·         Deadweight – The level of outcome that would have occurred without an intervention: what would have happened anyway?   Deadweight can be a deduction from your measured outcomes (removing a slice of the outcome pie) or if your initiative prevented a harm, it can be an addition to your measured outcome level.  Deadweight is normally represented as a percentage.  For example, 75 per cent of graduates in an employability program might secure a job after six months.  However the national rate of graduates securing employment over that period might be 50 per cent.  The background, or benchmarked rate will need to be subtracted from the outcomes measured.

·         Displacement - An assessment of how much of the change is a net benefit (i.e. a new change) rather than simply the movement of outcome within a system. For example, a reduction program may reduce drug dealing in one part of town, but a neighbouring authority may see an increase in drug dealing offenses as the crime has migrated elsewhere.  Displacement is normally limited to like-for-like outcomes within a clearly defined system.  A related concept, substitution, is sometimes used to refer to a social value in one place having a different knock-on social harm in another place, for example, greater privacy could lead to more social isolation.

·         Drop-off (outcomes) – Over time, the influence that your completed intervention will have on the presence of an outcome will diminish.  For example, a training program may generate skills (outcome) which persist after the completion of the program.  However the level of the outcome will diminish (people forget), and/or the influence of your program on the outcome level will diminish (relative to other influences like on-the-job experience).  Drop-off is used to account for this when calculating the total value created over the full benefit period (see above). A fixed percentage is normally deducted from each year of outcome value.

·         Enablers and preventers – Conditions or factors which either help (enablers) or hinder (preventers) you from achieving your Theory of Change (impact aims).  These factors can exist at any scale from individuals like family members to whole systems like the job market.  Enablers and preventers are external to your intervention and are therefore outside your control.

·         Evaluation – An assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of an intervention.  Evaluations typically involve a review of the process and the impact.  Process evaluation review whether the delivery of activities has been done to the extent and quality that was intended.  Impact evaluations review the achievement and level of outcomes created and the role of the intervention in causing those outcomes.

·         Impact - The portion, or share of an outcome that is caused by an intervention, compared to what would have happened anyway. It is calculated using the concepts of deadweight, attribution, displacement, benefit period and drop-off.  Impact is an intervention’s contribution and is sometime also described as additionality- see above.

·         Indicators A way of knowing whether (or not) an outcome has taken place.  Typically, indicators are metrics that we track change against, to understand the size or magnitude of an outcome.  There are two parts to an indicator we need to get right: the identification of the outcome state (the question); and the measurement of its level (the scale).

·         Inputs – Resources (financial and non-financial) that are deployed to create impact related activities.

·         Managing impact –Continuous improvement of impact through timely collection and analysis of impact data. The cycle of planning an impact program, delivering, monitoring and responding to its effectiveness.

·         Materiality- Information is material if its omission has the potential to affect a stakeholders’ decisions.  It is a concept that helps with scoping the most important aspects to collect data on.  Outcomes and stakeholders can be considered for materiality based on two factors: (i) significance – the size of the outcome experienced; and (ii) relevance – the applicability to the Theory of Change.

·         Outcomes - Outcomes are the change that occurs as a result of an activity.  For example: increased wellbeing; reduced carbon footprint; and increase in local prosperity.  Intended outcomes normally avoid harm, benefit stakeholders or contribute to solutions.  Outcomes can be short term (immediate), medium term or long-term and are depicted in visual stepping stones (logic chains) as part of a Theory of Change.  Long-term outcomes often refer to higher-level or compound concepts such as ‘social inclusion’ whereas nearer term outcomes might be ‘

·         Outputs – Tangible and direct products that result from activities, for example the number of trees planted or the number of people who attended a training.

·         Prevention – The avoidance of a harm (to people, planet or economy) by doing an intervention which changes the determining influences of that harm.  For example, a prevention program could increase the fitness of older people to reduce age-related physical injuries.

·         Social Cost-Benefit Analysis (SCBA) – A method for analysing the dollar value return from a project relative to the investment costs.  SCBA is commonly used as part of government policy reviews and is typically based on traditional economic valuation methods with more precise guidance provided by each respective department that authorises the evaluation approach.  SCBA is a more limited cost-benefit method than Social Return on Investment (SROI) – see below- as the latter includes a broader range of measurement and valuation techniques.

·         Social impactImpact (see above) which is experienced by individual people or groups of people as oppose to environmental and economic impacts.

·         Social innovation - Social innovation involves changing social services or the patterns of social behaviour for to better meet peoples' needs.

·         Social Return on Investment (SROI) – A cost-benefit method for determining the total value (social, environmental and economic) that is created relative to the total value invested in an intervention.  It is an outcomes based evaluation that follows the seven principles of Social Value practice: involving stakeholders, understanding what changes, valuing the things that matter, including only material changes, not over-claiming, transparency and results verification.  It uses a range of valuation techniques to recognise a broad range of social outcomes.

·         Social value – The quantification of both the size of an outcome and its relative importance.  This is often represented through a monetary value but it does not have to be (it could be expressed through words or alternative metrics).  A typical calculation would be ‘size of impact’ x ‘valuation of impact’.

·         Sustainability – The state of being able to provide for the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to achieve their needs.  Sustainability in its broadest sense considers the importance of protecting social, economic and environmental value.

·         Theory of change - A Theory of Change links the activities of a program, intervention or organisation to the short-term, medium-term and long-term outcomes experienced by stakeholders. Theory of change tells the story of how stakeholders are impacted by an intervention and their perception and belief of how their lives have or will change as a result. This should be the backbone for any intervention and the starting point for an evaluation.

·         Valuation - Non-traded outcomes can be monetised using techniques of economic. In analyses like SROI these values come from a combination of the costs of publicly available economic goods and services (market values) and proxies (approximate values) which are derived using a range of economic valuation methods such as ‘willingness to pay’ experiments.

·         Value for Money – A holistic evaluation technique which can include a cost-benefit calculation of impact effectiveness.  Value for Money evaluations typically consider the four ‘e’s of evaluation: economy (the cost); efficiency (delivery); effectiveness (impact); and equality (the distribution of the benefits).

·         Wellbeing – The dynamic state of being comfortable, healthy and happy.  The term refers to both good mental and good physical health and is determined by material and psycho-social factors.

Any terms missing?  Let me know in the comments field or drop me an email at alison.joy.freeman@gmail.com.