The business world is driven by targets—sales, productivity, and ultimately, profit. So it’s no surprise that when a business invests in the community, it wants to know the outcome of its investment. Particularly in a time of austerity when big business and banks are trying to resurrect battered reputations, they want to understand the impact of any investment in communities, and communicate this to their stakeholders. But while the announcements of first-half profits by Britain’s top companies over the last few weeks sum up business success in a single figure, social impact can’t be so easily measured.
Here in the research and consulting team at NPC we’re used to helping clients tackle the challenge of social impact measurement. Usually it’s either charities or funders that we work with. But we’ve just begun an exciting new project to capture the far-reaching effects of a programme which impacts upon charities, communities, funders, and businesses too.
We’re helping Business in the Community (BITC) to measure the impact of an ambitious new programme which harnesses business expertise to tackle local issues. BITC’s Business Connectors programme trains and places full-time business secondees into communities in deprived parts of the UK to create vital connections, and build knowledge, skills and trust in both businesses and local communities.
For BITC the programme directly contributes to its mission to promote responsible businesses that transform communities and themselves. For the Big Lottery Fund, which has invested £4.8 million in the programme, Business Connectors supports its mission to help communities most in need; for charities it can provide much needed additional resources at a time of increased demand and funding cuts; for communities blighted by unemployment and poverty, it provides a hope for regeneration.
And the high profile businesses, including Lloyds, BT, Royal Mail and Sainsbury’s, which have committed to second their employees to work in communities, expect to see benefits too. They will be looking to see staff development and improved local business relationships. They will be hoping to create more sustainable communities, and enhance their brand and reputation.
Meanwhile, the communities where Business Connectors operates (places like Tottenham which was at the centre of the riots last summer) will also be hoping that the programme helps alleviate social problems like unemployment and enables communities and business to re-engage with each other.
Great expectations all round then. And the challenge for Business Connectors is not just to achieve these benefits, but to evidence them too. That’s where we come in. NPC has just been chosen as the measurement and evaluation partner on the Business Connectors programme. We’ll be helping with everything from its theory of change to developing a measurement framework and creating the tools and support to put it into action. Measuring the programme’s impact will be far from straightforward, but it’s an exciting prospect.