Social Impact, Social Value Act and Well-Being Measures

This is the second blog in a series exploring social impact and well-being. At Intentionality we’re really interested in those two things. Well-being is the lens through which we see and understand ‘impact’ as, without such a lens, ‘impact’ is fairly meaningless. We began exploring this in a blog post in October (here) and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Steve’s now developed this thinking and written a follow up blog to see if well-being measures could be the answer…


What is a ‘positive impact’?

What could we mean by ‘impact’? Impact is not the sole domain of social enterprises. Everything and everyone has an ‘impact’ – on individuals, society or the environment. However, this is often, but unintentionally, negative (think air pollution or Amazon’s workers facing increased risk of mental illness). When positive, we believe it is more likely to be intentional, rather than accidental or incidental (think Patagonia’s ‘Worn Wear’ programme putting customer and environment first or Rubies in the Rubble making amazing chutneys and jam from surplus fruits and vegetables).

So, making a positive impact is about doing more of the things that make people’s lives better. Making a negative impact is about doing things that make people’s lives worse. What do we mean by ‘better’ and ‘worse’ you may ask – we mean the things that well-being research suggests that people value; the things that help people flourish, that help them feel better about themselves, and that strengthen communities.

We’ve been pondering upon this a lot at Intentionality as virtually all we do is help social enterprises measure and report their impact.

  • What would a well-being-led approach to impact measurement look like?
  • How could it be implemented?
  • How could a well-being-led impact measurement approach become integral to government policy and procurement?

What’s particularly caught our eye over the last year are the thoughts and the manifesto of the Social Economy Alliance (of which Intentionality is a member). The Alliance proposes, among other things, the creation of a Social Value Unit, with a mandate for the Treasury to measure and grow social as well as economic value. They also propose an enhanced, extended version of the Social Value Act (which Social Enterprise UK and members of the Social Economy Alliance were instrumental in bringing about).

I like the sound of those two things, but I think there’s something missing. I think there’s a link (which those behind the Alliance may well have already thought of as they’re a very bright bunch, but they don’t seem to have articulated, at least not in their manifesto). The link is that the proposed Social Value Unit, along with the National Audit Office and Office for National Statistics, could be used to define, quantify and track the social impact (or social value) desired at the heart of the Social Value Act.


Are well-being measures the answer?

One of the (few) interesting things that our current government has implemented, is the measurement of well-being by the ONS, which measures it in great detail and makes the data available, for free, in all kinds of creative and interactive ways.

One can imagine a way in which a London Borough – Merton let’s say, the borough in which I live – might say ‘we’ll procure this service, and there will be additional weighting or reward if we can show that we’re working with those who have lower well-being or that we can measurably demonstrate an increase in well-being’. And how might they do that? They could use ONS measures, already standardised, robust, and ‘benchmark-able’ with a weight of data behind them from 10’s if not 100’s of thousands of people. No need for a control group either, as all of this data is readily available on the ONS’ website in order to compare and contrast with similar communities.

A suitable sample of the beneficiaries that a social enterprise might be working with could be asked to complete the ONS’s measures of well-being. Perhaps just the four core questions, which take only a matter of seconds to respond to. Responses could then be tracked over time to establish direction and distance of travel. If well-being had increased, we might take it that social value had increased, that a positive impact had been brought about.

You could check out the data for yourself. You can click on this link to search for the areas where you work to see how you might measure and benchmark your impact. Or you could search for places where you could make the most impact. For example, got a great anxiety-reducing intervention? Why not expand to Leicester, where anxiety was higher in 2013-2014 than anywhere else?

The ONS’ Wheel of Well-Being is very interesting. It shows the constituent parts of, and the key contributors to, well-being. Many of the social enterprises up and down the country are already intentionally or unintentionally having a positive impact on those factors.

For example, under Personal Well-being, 39.4% of the sample population had ‘very low anxiety yesterday’. Can your enterprise demonstrate that it is working with people with higher levels of anxiety and helping them to reduce that down to ‘low’ or ‘very low’ levels? If so, you’re having a positive impact on something that really matters to people and to society at large. You’re creating personal and social value.

What would a beefed up Social Value Act look like? What role might a Social Value Unit play? How might there be an interplay between those two things? I think the clues are already there – some very clearly so – the ONS already measures well-being and the data is already available. Well-being is a cross-cutting measure of impact across service and sector. It is as applicable to health as it is to employability, to homelessness as it is to financial advice and to foodbanks as it is to parenting. Well-being has something to say to all of those things, and measures of well-being implemented and reported from within any of those areas could have something significant to say to government, funders, supporters, communities, teams, entrepreneurs and others.


Join in the discussion

Over the next 12 months I will be exploring this further and would love you to help and join us on this journey. In the midst of discussions about social enterprise, a social economy, the role of the state, the role of private business – I’d be interested in drawing this out and developing it more.

Join the debate! Send any questions, thoughts or ideas to us at

or contact us on Twitter at @Intentionality_ or tweet using the hashtag #SVAwellbeing