How to make impact meaningful for social entrepreneurs

For social entrepreneurs, measuring and evaluating impact is crucial. Yet its perceived laborious nature often relegates impact measurement to the bottom of the to-do list.

At AKOU we see it as our mission to make the process and experience of measuring social impact meaningful and useful for all involved.

So when we were tasked to evaluate the School of Social Enterprise (SSE) flagship programme, we jumped at the chance to bring a more inclusive and beneficial approach.

You can learn more about our findings from the Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland Social Entrepreneurs Programme here.

Empowering entrepreneurs to collect better data

Alongside traditional evaluation, a key part of our activity was to run AKOU’s Research Associates programme. We trained and up-skilled 10 SSE fellows—social entrepreneurs who had participated in SSE’s programme—in impact measurement and data collection. Ensuring mutual benefit, we compensated them for their time and enabled them to utilise the data they provided for the evaluation.

Find out more about our Research Associates approach in our Making Impact Meaningful for Social Entrepreneurs report available to download here.

We empowered Research Associates to collect crucial insights in a unified but creative way. This allowed scope for the nuances of their social enterprises, while also ensuring approaches were similar and data sets would be comparable.

“We’re now using the data we gathered from the Research Associate’s programme to write our own impact report. We feel more skilled now to do so.”

Ali Horton, The Gateway Collective

Research Associates directly engaged with 388 beneficiaries, gathering first-hand insights. They spearheaded the development of methods and ideas to enhance data sharing. And have since implemented systems for collecting impact data for their ventures, extending their usability beyond this impact study.

For the first time, there is now a coherent quantitative and qualitative data set evidencing the difference SSE fellows make across the country and how they positively impact the volunteers and beneficiaries they work with.

Celebrating a participatory approach

Last week in a rather narrow, very hot and jam-packed room in Parliament, social entrepreneurs, champions, advocates and decision makers gathered for the launch of our report.

“Social enterprise is a significant part of the UK economy that shows substantial support to local communities.”

– Baroness Glenys Thorton – Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media & Sport)

Baroness Glenys Thoton speaking at the launch event, photo by Wendy Pye

It was great to celebrate and see the impact of the findings derived from such a participatory process.

Speaking at the event was Veronica Gordon, a founder of social enterprise Our Vision Media and one of the Research Associates. Hearing how Veronica and Our Vision Media are still making use of the data gathered through the evaluation reiterated the importance of the process.

Veronica Gordon speaking at the event in Parliament, photo by Wendy Pye

It highlighted why impact reporting needs to benefit both those who provide and receive data. Veronica and SSE are still utilising the evidence gathered to promote their work. And importantly tell an impactful story about the reach of their impact.

“Social entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of local communities, helping to strengthen the infrastructure.”

– Phil Chamberlain (England Director – Strategy, Partnerships & Engagement) from The National Lottery Community Fund

Baroness Glenys Thoton speaking at the launch event, photo by Wendy Pye

The operation and impact of social enterprises are vital in addressing society’s most complex challenges. It is vital that they and programmes such as SSE’s that support them, are able to more fully and effectively demonstrate their impact and worth.

That’s why AKOU really does believe that impact measurement needs to be made meaningful and feel doable for social entrepreneurs.

Providing richer impact evidence for all

We strongly advocate for other program providers within the impact sector to adopt methodologies akin to AKOU’s Research Associate programme. These may require some extra resources, but provide a richer source of impact evidence for programmes, programme participants and beneficiaries collectively.

Data derived from such processes can help assess and understand the impact created by initiatives aiming to tackle some of society’s biggest challenges more widely and vividly.

And most importantly, programmes like AKOU’s Research Associates help social entrepreneurs to make impact measurement meaningful for them.

We believe that our approach empowers and incentivises social entrepreneurs to gather higher-quality impact data. It can enhance an individual’s confidence and skill in impact data practices and obtaining feedback from beneficiaries. It provides time for peer support, targeted input from experts and space for operational reflection. Moreover, an approach like this balances power and trust concerning data, while demonstrating the necessity and utilisation of impact data.