Impact Reporting: Is talking about distance travelled sexy enough for funders and commissioners?

Office Binder 2 - Image Credit Freerange Stock ArchivesThere seems to be this perpetual swing in impact measurement between talking about distance travelled and the financial savings of early intervention.

Distance travelled is simply the journey your beneficiaries go through, with hopefully a positive change at the end of the process. But is it enough to just tell people’s stories now that funding and contracts are more limited?

Do we need to incorporate the financial savings to statutory agencies of these interventions that stop future needs to access statutory services? I would say yes more often than not doing both is a much more compelling story and financial position to prove your worth to funders and commissioners.

If you work in health and social care and for many local authority contracts there is a requirement to include Social Return on Investment (SROI) as part of your evaluation and more funders are expecting this as well. The only issue with this is that the commissioner probably isn’t trained in SROI so someone simply presenting a bigger figure will be seen as better, and without the stories of change the number is meaningless.

Take these two organisations that provide eating disorder services, one has an SROI of £21 and the other £16. The first is not better because it works with individuals who have had their first episode of an eating disorder and they are provided with telephone counselling, so it is working with easy to reach individuals and offering a cheap form of support, so their return for every £1 spent is higher. The second service provides intensive inpatient support to individuals who have been suffering from eating disorders for years, so it is an expensive option working with hard to reach individuals. Many commissioners would select the first option because it is cheaper and has a bigger SROI figure.

What is needed is a balance between the two, so SROI and distance travelled are presented jointly and organisations are expected to evidence both to demonstrate effectiveness. But this approach requires funders and commissioners to move away from their current obsession with just looking at the cost of a service, the potential cost savings to statutory agencies and the SROI figure in isolation.