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Prediction 2: 2024 SROI will evolve into a model of continuous learning and improvement.

Time to revaluate how Social Return On Investment (SROI) works in 2024: A Data-Driven Perspective
Best Practices
Written by
Unmesh Sheth
Published on
December 11, 2023

Reimagining Social Return on Investment (SROI): Embracing a new era of data-driven efficiency and optimization in program evaluation for impactful results.

True Essence of Social Return on Investment (SROI)

Social Value International first defined SROI as Social Return on Investment. It was first used in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It emerged as a principle-driven framework (social value principle).

SROI helps organizations understand and quantify the social, environmental, and economic value.

SROI is essential in social purpose organizations and corporate social responsibility programs. Measuring non-financial impacts is crucial in these contexts. It involves assigning monetary values to activities' significant social and environmental outcomes.

This allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the value generated. It goes beyond traditional financial metrics.

Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a powerful tool for measuring organizations' social impact. It faces several significant challenges in its traditional form. Traditional SROI has a few major issues.

Hence, this is an argument for democratizing SROI through a data-driven approach.

Major Issues with Traditional SROI

  1. Traditional SROI is time-consuming. It involves a protracted process of data collection, involving stakeholders, and analyzing cost-benefits. This can span months or years. This duration hampers the ability to make swift, informed decisions. It also hinders the ability to assess real-time impacts. This includes intended and unintended consequences and cost-benefit analysis.
  2. Complexity and Subjectivity: In traditional Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis, assigning monetary values to social outcomes can be complicated and subjective.
  3. Various organizations use different methods. This can lead to inconsistencies and difficulties when comparing results. This subjectivity can reduce the credibility of outcomes. Any claims require thorough information and evidence to support them.
  4. Justification over Improvement: Traditional SROI focuses on justifying past impacts rather than fostering ongoing improvement. This retrospective approach limits continuous learning and improvement in social impact measurement.
  5. Loss of most unique value: By evaluating them based on standard metrics and focusing solely on monetization, we do a disservice to social purpose organizations. Each nonprofit operates within its own unique context and faces different challenges. Applying a uniform standard to all of them is like forcing every child to play by the same rules, ignoring their individual creativity and unique journeys.

In traditional SROI, accurate conclusions often need third-party impact practitioners to verify results. This ensures they are fair and accurate. The final SROI report should state the ratio of SROI and explain how it creates change.

It's crucial to include what is material and backed by solid evidence. It's crucial to cover both intended and unintended impacts. This process should involve stakeholders, be informed by what metrics are measured, and rely on robust evidence must be included.

Traditional SROI can be subjective, time-consuming, and designed to justify impact. The future of SROI hinges on our willingness to embrace a data-driven approach, as we move forward, it's crucial to the transition from traditional, backward-looking methods to strategies that prioritize real-time learning and continuous improvement

Why SROI Needs to Evolve into a Continuous Learning and Improvement Model

  • Evaluating Program Alignment with Mission or Vision: How well does a program align with an organization's mission or vision?
  • Determining Program Effectiveness: Among multiple programs, which delivers more effectively?
  • Understanding Stakeholder Needs: Are the programs in line with what stakeholders want?
  • Agreement with Outcomes: Do stakeholders agree with the defined outcomes, both in the short term and long term?

This structure addresses the need for SROI to evolve, highlighting the key questions that a data-driven approach to SROI can help answer.

The Right Time for a Data-Driven Approach in SROI: Why 2024 is Pivotal

As we approach 2024, the Social Return on Investment (SROI) landscape is ripe for a significant transformation. The transition to a data-driven approach is not just timely but essential. Here's why 2024 is the ideal year for this shift and how it aligns with the prediction that SROI will become a model of continuous learning and improvement:

  • Technological Readiness: By 2024, advancements in AI combined with other advanced designs for the first time will allow us to understand correlation and causation together. This helps gain deep insights into what stakeholders think most effectively within a short period of time. These technologies have reached a maturity level that makes real-time data collection and analysis possible and practical for a wide range of organizations. This technological evolution enables immediate feedback and the ability to adapt strategies quickly, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.
  • Demand for Standardization and Objectivity: Social challenges' increasing complexity and diversity call for more standardized and objective methods in calculating SROI. A data-driven approach, relying on consistent data sources and analytical tools, promises to reduce subjectivity and simplify comparisons, making them more reliable.
  • Broader Accessibility and Scalability: 2024 will likely see a surge in the availability of automated tools and platforms that make SROI evaluation more accessible, especially for smaller organizations with limited resources. This scalability ensures that the benefits of a data-driven approach can be leveraged by a broader spectrum of organizations.
  • Enhanced Stakeholder Engagement and Transparency: Modern technology, which will be more widely adopted by 2024, facilitates better stakeholder engagement through transparent and interactive communication platforms. Stakeholders’ real-time access to impact data can foster deeper trust and more effective collaboration.
  • Shift to Adaptive Learning: Organizations increasingly recognize the importance of moving from static evaluation to dynamic learning. By 2024, using real-time data to refine and improve activities will be critical in solving complex social challenges.
Adopting advanced technologies like AI and data analytics is not just an upgrade; it's a necessary evolution. By 2024, we envision these tools central to transforming how we measure, analyze, and understand social impact.

Sopact's 'Sopact Sense' Platform: A Game-Changer in SROI

As we move into 2024, platforms like Sopact Sense are set to revolutionize the SROI process. This platform embodies the shift towards a data-driven approach in several ways:

  • Efficient Data Analysis: By utilizing AI-powered survey tools and automated analytics, the platform significantly speeds up the data analysis, enhancing accuracy and providing deep insights more quickly.
  • Multi-Language Support and Diverse Data Collection Methods: The platform's capability to support multiple languages and enable data collection via various methods (QR code, mobile, SMS, WhatsApp) ensures inclusivity and flexibility in data gathering.
  • Facilitating Continuous Learning and Improvement: The platform's design is focused on continuous learning and improvement, making SROI more accessible, objective, and valuable for real-time decision-making.

To address the risks and challenges in achieving the 2024 prediction for SROI as a continuous learning and improvement model, we can consider several key factors:

Overcoming Traditional Mindsets and Methodologies

  • Resistance to Change: The traditional mindset of evaluating rather than measuring impact poses a significant hurdle. This perspective often focuses on justifying past impacts rather than fostering ongoing improvement.
  • Funders' Approach: There is a challenge in shifting funders' focus from impact justification to impact learning. They often allocate substantial budgets for evaluations but may not prioritize the learning aspect essential for continuous improvement.
  • Trust in Data Ownership: Many organizations may lack confidence in becoming data owners and leveraging technology for SROI. This hesitancy can hinder the adoption of a more dynamic, data-driven approach.
  • Status Quo vs. Progress: Social purpose organizations face a choice: accept the current backward-looking approach or take control of their destiny by embracing new methodologies and technologies.
The journey to a more efficient and impactful SROI model is fraught with challenges, particularly in shifting the mindset from mere impact justification to focus on ongoing impact learning. But this shift is essential for organizations that aim to make a real difference in today's dynamically changing world.

These considerations highlight the need for a paradigm shift in how SROI is approached and the importance of addressing these challenges to realize the potential of continuous learning and improvement in social impact evaluation.

For a detailed exploration of these risks and challenges, the full article on SoPact's website provides comprehensive insights here.

In conclusion, the year 2024 stands as a pivotal moment for the evolution of SROI into a model of continuous learning and improvement. With technological advancements, a growing need for standardization and objectivity, increased accessibility, and a shift toward adaptive learning, the stage is set for a transformative approach to SROI. Platforms like Sopact Sense are at the forefront of this change, offering innovative solutions to traditional SROI challenges and setting a new standard for social impact evaluation.

For a detailed understanding, you can visit their website here.

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