How do we measure social impact? 

Once we have an understanding of what social impact is and why we should measure it, we come on to the ‘how’.  What are the processes, tools and techniques we need to put in place to measure social impact effectively?

Wellbeing Valuation is an established lightweight framework for measuring social impact. This converts outcomes into monetary values based on how much they increase individual wellbeing.

Using effective evaluation tools including Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, (WEMWS), and HACT (Housing Association) social value calculator we can show how an activity benefits an individual through increasing self-confidence, finding employment or training, making friends and being part of a community, being active and so on.

The approach works through the analysis of large national datasets. Sophisticated statistical analysis is used to isolate the effect of specific factors on individual wellbeing.   To do this we must input data into Wellbeing Valuation Calculators including the cost of the project, number of people involved, their ages, what they achieve (from a drop-down menu) as a result of participating. This information is then analysed to calculate the social value of a project.

The analysis can then be articulated in terms of the wellbeing equivalent on an investment –
For example:  project XX demonstrated a wellbeing equivalent of £44k for a £16k investment and a social return of £12 for every £1.  In other words, for every £1 spent on the project, the ‘saving’ to the public purse was £12 – so investing in this work represents enormous value for money.

There’s more to the process than simply applying evaluation tools. 

Here’s a diagram to give you an idea of possible routes forwards:


THE PROCESS  (this could be a flowchart)

  1. Identify the particular difference (the impact) you and your business are seeking to make – that way you know what to track and measure and are clear about your purpose. Deciding on the difference you and your business want to make is closely aligned to your overall mission and values.  If you are a charity this links to your charitable aims; if you are a social enterprise or community interest company (CIC) this relates to your mission.The Real Ideas Organisation (RIO) are experts in this field and recommend using the Transformational Index  to help you establish what is important to you and your business

The Arts Development Company CIC values ‘inspiring positive social change through creativity and collaboration’ so when we think about the difference we want to make it will be in line with this.   Knowing this informs both the decision to take on work and the impact evaluation process.  Social Value UK has ten impact questions for you to help your thinking.


  1. With each project use a Theory of Change to identify the impact and outcomes (the changes you want to make – in the short, medium and long term) from your project

Example Theory of Change for a project with young people who are unemployed and disengaged: 

The intended long-term impact might be a ‘reduction in youth unemployment in the local area’. Outcomes on the way may include ‘young people get sustainable jobs’ and ‘young people remain in jobs or training’; in order for that to happen intermediate outcomes could be ‘young people are work ready, have increased confidence, have increased their knowledge and skills’.

You can use a similar process for other social problems e.g. loneliness, anxiety


  1. Plan and cost your inputs (resources) and activities to enable these outcomes
    These could be group activities, individual mentoring and support, skills sessions
    What resources do you need – expertise, materials, space, marketing
  2. Be clear about your outputs (what is produced) from the activities
    These could be CVs, job applications, film, presentations, journals, recordings 
  3. Who is the Impact Evaluation for? Who is your audience?
    Be clear about who the evaluation is for so that you measure impact relevant to the audience and use appropriate language.  Will you be sharing it with a funder or someone new you want to impress – a philanthropist for example or a policy maker or social investor? 
  4. Think about what form your final evaluation report will be in.
    This could be a written report with graphs, diagrams, videos, recordings or a mixture.   How are you going to tell participants’ stories?   Think about what form would best suit your target audience?   How might your work be applied in another place or with another group?
  5. Decide what you are going to measure at the beginning of your project: (suggest 3-5 max).
    You may wish to think about the extent a project empowers individuals or communities and then show this through measuring aspects like confidence, connectivity, skills at the start and again at the end of a project.

Examples of measurable empowerment include be:
a) increased confidence and self-worth
b) increased knowledge and/or skills
c) increased economic benefit – getting more work or increasing turnover
d) managing life better (less anxiety / depression / loneliness, more engaged in their community or new friendships)
e) re-engagement with education / training
f) finding a job

  1. Determine the measurement methodologies you will use. That way you will know to what extent you’ve achieved the changes you want to make  This will be both:(a) quantitative data (collecting information on number of people participating, their personal details, register of attendance)

    (b) qualitative information – to show the individual journey travelled; this means they identify where they are at the start of the programme and again at the end to see how far they’ve progressed in whatever area they are seeking to change or improve.

    8.  Measurement tools:
    To measure the journey travelled you can use tools like The Outcomes Star™ or create your own tools like a Wheel of Change (circles) or spectrum lines, identifying what you are measuring (see below).

    Other evaluation tools include surveys questioning participants’ environment, employment, health, financial inclusion, age etc, questionnaires identifying what they have learnt and storytelling strategies such as films and recordings as well as personal endorsements.

    9.   Choosing what to measure:
    Using the chosen evaluation individual tool a participant decides begins the process of measuring their individual journey during the programme from point A to Point B to show improvements and changes.

Measurements could include (3-5):
levels of confidence
skills for work
level of isolation felt
sense of belonging
connected to family and friends
engagement in physical activity


  1. Input the data
    Input data at beginning, (ideally mid-way) and at end of the programme and use a wellbeing calculator to calculate the social value (££££) of the programme.

    11. Create final evaluation and report in whichever form you have chosen
    demonstrating your impact against the project ambitions.  You should be able to show the impact of the arts and culture activities on the initial need or problem you identified (be that youth unemployment, social isolation, anxiety) – essentially how arts and culture alleviates society’s problems.
  2. Other resources and examples to help you:
    The Arts Council produced an infographic to demonstrate the value of arts and culture for people and society.

Additionally ACE provide tools to support this process

How to create stories that share your social impact:

  1. Finally, you may wish to read more to find out about government thinking around social investment:


Illustration by Beatrice Simpkis