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Could personalisation be a way of quantifying social impact?

Could personalisation be a way of quantifying social impact?
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Could personalisation be a way of quantifying social impact?1

Finance | Vibeka Mair | 18 Nov 2009

Last week, Bridges Ventures announced its very first investment into Call Britannia. The financial bible FT covered the news enthusiastically and positively, but it also described social investment overall as “notoriously woolly”.

And of course it is compared with the hard facts of numbers. But like law, a discipline which relies on careful interpretation and precedents, social investment can develop an understandable measure for proving social value, although it won’t be as clear-cut as making a profit.

Money talks, but love can move mountains. I attended Rathbone's Green Dragons Den last week where five keen social entrepreneurs made their case to an audience of investors who would invest in their favourite idea with “Rathbone dollars”. Pitches ranged from environmental technologies to microfinance loan initiatives.

Social Impact Bonds, developed by Social Finance, received the highest investment of £15m. This didn’t surprise me - the idea is to raise investment to fund preventative programmes, investors receive returns from government on the basis of improved social outcomes, such as reduced reoffending.

Speaking to people shortly after the pitches, it was clear the idea of using investment to improve society was compelling. Some didn’t fully understand how it would work, but it had certainly captured the imagination.

And this week, Acevo has ramped up the call for personalisation, releasing an interim report from the Commission on Personalisation.

It has called the drive to give service users control of where money for their care is spent - a social market revolution.

And that it could be. The positives of personalisation oft repeated include empowerment for service users, and greater accountability for providers.

But another positive aspect is this could become a true indicator of social value. We can never measure 100 per cent how people feel, but we can quantify how people spend.

Could charities use this as a way of demonstrating their social value? If more service users chose them over others as the culture of personalisation spread – could this be used to show investors social impact in their favourite language - numbers?

John Woodruff
Treasurer
Independent Options (Stockport) Ltd
19 Nov 2009

The views expressed here are mine personally and not those of the Trustees or Management of Independent Options (Stockport) Ltd.

I wholheartedly agree with the proposition that personalisation, coupled with putting the money to purchase services into the hands of users, is an excellent way of measuring the social value of providers. One big barrier, however, is the reluctance on the part of certain local authorities to let go of the purse strings because it takes away their power and runs against their belief that "nanny state" knows best. If Central Government could place more pressure on Local Councils to, for example, implement individual budgets faster by setting aggressive targets and policing them, then this would go a long way to achieving what all of us in the third sector want: namely, efficiently delivered services that users and their families actually want.

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