The politics of social impact: 'value for money' versus 'active citizenship'?

Jenny Onyx


There is growing interest in identifying the social impact of everything: academic research, funded projects, organisations themselves, whether in public , private, or community sectors. The central questions are first what benefits do organizations create and deliver for society and second how do we measure these benefits? These questions are notoriously difficult to answer and yet go to the heart of efforts by governments and civil society organisations to create a better world, to generate social value. The importance of finding a way to measure social impact becomes all the more crucial when it comes to arguing that the benefits obtained far outweigh the cost of producing those benefits, and indeed the benefits may directly or  indirectly increase economic wealth. This line of thinking has started to generated various attempts in Australia and elsewhere in the neo-liberal world, to find objective indicators of social impact, and preferably to frame these in terms of monetary cost and benefit.  Indeed there is increasing insistence on the part of funding bodies that we measure the social impact. However, exactly what it is that we should be measuring remains contested and elusive

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