The purpose of the paper is to propose a systems change lens to current approaches to assessing social impact in social ventures. Many existing tools for measuring social impact are limited in their capacity to assess the inherent complexities and interconnected nature of the work done by social enterprises.
The paper uses in-depth interviews with sector experts to gain insights into their needs related to impact assessment, as well as issues they face when attempting to understand and measure their impact.
Expert interviews provide insights into how social impact occurs through interconnected systems. It also highlights the need for impact assessment to better consider interaction within systems and networks. Results support previous work concerning the need for methods that can better account for complexity, interacting problems and the place of power in influencing actions.
Following results from interviews and review of existing literature, symbolic interactionism and Social Worlds/Arenas theories are used to gain insight as to how impact can be conceptualized in terms of systemic shifts in social equilibria. The model proposes to capture the contested definitions of problems and their negotiation in social structures.
Grounded in sociological theory, the model brings a new theoretical approach to social impact assessment, one that provides a different view of social structures than existing models that are grounded in economic metrics. The proposed model, therefore, provides a new lens for the detailed assessment of the complex interactions between systems.
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