SROI in practice: the Wooden Canal Boat Society

Dave Wilson (Community, Adults and Health Services, Tameside MBC, Greater Manchester, UK)
Michael Frederick Bull (Business School, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Publication date: 11 November 2013



The purpose of this case study is to highlight the complexities involved in conducting a social return on investment (SROI) forecast in a small social enterprise, The Wooden Canal Boat Society.


This SROI forecast was a collaborative exercise between Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council and the Wooden Canal Boat Society. A case study methodology has been adopted in order to allow the voice of the first author, from the Local Authority, to come through.


The findings highlight that the process of scoping; gathering and analysing information; engaging with stakeholders and assigning evidence against proxies (London centric) is challenging and exhausting, yet it provides a rich learning experience for all those involved. The accuracy of the ratio is compromised and implicated by the time and resources that are available to invest the subjectivity of the data behind the ratio the judgements and decisions over who and how to include/exclude individuals from the SROI forecast. In short, the Wooden Canal Boat Society SROI forecast proved to be the tipping point in a successful grant application. However, SROI is not something the Local Authority are set to embrace more widely or would particularly recommend for the vast majority of their local social economy organisations.

Research limitations/implications

As a case study paper, the authors do not seek to generalise. The case provides the reader with a stakeholder informed account of the experiences of being involved in a forecast SROI from the perspective of the first author from the Local Authority. In times of political change and economic austerity the climate in the UK social economy has significantly altered, particularly in the marketisation of services and funding provisions for health and social care. One implication of this shift that is reflected in the paper is Local Authority thinking in light of the Social Value Act, which passed through the UK Parliament in 2012.


The value of this case study provides academics and practitioners with an alternative perspective and rich commentary of the first author's narrative and reflections on the process of SROI and the dynamics involved in arriving at the ratio.



This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number RES-173-27-0234].Thanks to Chris Leah, Nicholas Lowther and, in particular, Fiona Jones at the Wooden Canal Boat Society. Also to Naomi Sampson at T3SC and to Julie Sykes for making sense of a very complicated Excel spreadsheet indeed.


Wilson, D. and Frederick Bull, M. (2013), "SROI in practice: the Wooden Canal Boat Society", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 315-325.

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