On May 27th in Calgary, more than 11,200 people participated in a series of running events organized by the Calgary Marathon Society. Options included a 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon events, with a 1km children’s marathon for 500 enthusiastic and aspiring young runners.
The Society is quite effective at encouraging participation, particularly among those planning for the longer events. For most people, running a 10k, half marathon or 42.5 kilometres is not something to be done the day after pulling oneself up off of the couch for the first time in months. For success, these races require planning, practice and perseverance. A vision for the end result is highly recommended. It’s the same with SROI.
If we view the practice of using the social return on investment (SROI) methodology as a marathon, then any organization seeking to use SROI to express the value of its work won’t simply pronounce itself ready to implement and expect results without preparation. That preparation would include research illustrating how SROI will draw upon existing data and inform current evaluation processes, while offering new information and perspective. The research would highlight how SROI is intended to bring forward new sources of information from stakeholders not previously consulted. It would also include perspective on why additional stakeholder information lays the groundwork for an infinitely stronger evaluation result that informs program design and delivery, enhances communication and engages key stakeholders.
The right building blocks must be in place
Social return on investment follows the path of a marathon in the sense that several foundational building blocks must be in place in order to complete the process. The runner must first commit to the race! And then achieve the 5k, 10k and half marathon distances in order to make the full marathon a possibility. SROI also relies upon informational building blocks in the form of inputs (5k), outputs (10k) and outcomes (21k half-marathon), so that the value of impact can be assessed (the marathon). Clear understanding of the value of outcomes from the key stakeholder perspective is essential to value impact.
With regard to preparation, experienced marathoners practice and train. Today, we see evaluators with years of outcome evaluation experience working alongside subject matter experts in SROI courses being offered by the SROI Canada Network. While most are newcomers to the SROI process, their technical and subject matter expertise is more than enough to enable effective participation in the key SROI questions: Who changes? How do they change? What is the value of their change? How long does the change last?
When interested newcomers come to the SROI process without evaluation or subject matter expertise, we would advise them to put the 5k, 10k and half marathon building blocks in place to ensure that the organization either has or envisions a truly stakeholder-oriented, outcomes-based approach that includes inputs and outputs information. As we saw in the 2013 Calgary results, success comes in all forms and sizes, ages and abilities.
From an SROI perspective, the key to success does not depend on issue, organizational size or sector. As the marathoners can teach us, the key is planning, preparation and practice.
Stephanie Robertson founded SiMPACT Strategy Group in 2004 and launched LBG Canada in 2005. As the first accredited SROI practitioner in North America, Stephanie is a leading professional in the area of social impact management and measurement.