By Craig Corrigan, University of Wolverhampton

What do the words Social Impact mean to you? How can Social Impact be Monitored and Evaluated? How most importantly can Social Impact be measured? Given the current sporting policy narrative and the growing need to prove a programmes worth (and future existence due to reduced or cut funding streams) these questions are at the forefront of everyone’s minds.  Those who are in the business of using football as a force for social good, whether community programme, charity, social enterprise or private business have these questions to answer. The world of football and monitoring and evaluation in some way echoes levels inequality, by this, we can describe organisations in the terms of ‘haves’ (have data) and ‘have nots’ (don’t!).

Most are able to write and speak with passion and enthusiasm sharing positive stories about the impact that football can have on a young person’s life. The story tellers are gatekeepers to the industry and have often observed, supported or lived such changes in person. Commonly, football is championed for its elucidative powers to enhance confidence, leadership skills, encourage teamwork and introduce principles of respect and discipline. Others are focused primarily on statistics and a quantitative evidence base; for example, who attended, when, where, how many times did they attend, what were their motivations etc. These are the ‘haves’. No-one would argue the legitimacy of their stories, but often this type of ‘data’ doesn’t sing in tune to the policy makers beats and it is those with the numbers that survive and strive.

Mostly, organisations fall into the haves and have nots, but a great example of ones that uses both is the Premier League funded Kickz project. The vison of this initiative is to create safer, stronger, more respectful communities through the development of young peoples’ potential (Kickz Impact Report, 2009; Morgan, 2013). The Premier League is well positioned financially to enact and roll out such an evaluation approach.

But how could a charity that may host a late night football session in an urban setting with a large proportion of teenagers claim to have a ‘“Social Impact’ and even more challenging, how can they measure it”?

Some of the challenges include research design issues, for example most participants having zero interest in completing questionnaires prior to a project, never mind discussing their self-esteem levels.  Could they analyse pre and post event crime rates [or should they look at anti-social behaviour and crime] recorded by the Police or the Fire Service [despite each having different definitions and monitoring techniques], as a proposed study between Street Games and Loughborough University plan to? Could this be argued as a form of Social Impact?

Research into Sports Based Interventions (SBI’s) in the UK by Chamberlain (2013) identified that “sport can be used as a hook” to connect young people to skills training, employment and educational programmes. Interestingly, though the same study revealed that most of the data for the value of SBI’s is anecdotal in nature, consisting of relatively small sample sizes, as well as often omitting to track research participants beyond a relatively short period of time (Chamberlain, 2013).

Sport has traditionally relied upon an outputs based approach to justify funding received. How will the third sector adjust to evidencing outcomes (i.e. the effect a programme may have on an individual’s confidence levels) as asked for by Sport England, in their new sports strategy? In times of austerity, when funding for existing and new projects may be reduced significantly, charities need to evidence their “Impact”.

Impact reports by The Change Foundation (2014), Kicks (2014), and Street League (2014) all detail that they have moved from measuring participation rates to measuring outcomes, such as the number of NEET’s who are now in employment. Case studies on individuals involved in the charity projects use words such as “transformational”, “motivational”, “engaging”, and focus heavily on how the confidence and employability skills fostered through sport projects have impacted on a young person’s work readiness (The Change Foundation, 2014; Kicks, 2014 & Street League, 2014 ).

The third sector can work with some of the most vulnerable and hard to reach people in the UK. Although still in its infancy, my early research has revealed the problems faced when attempting to collect outcomes based evidence. Practitioners on the ground, who are often tasked with collecting the rawest forms of M & E data, simply do not see the relevance of it or do not have sufficient time to collect the data. A regular response seems to be, “I’m here to coach not collect paperwork”.

Key academics such as Coalter, Kay and Bell have constantly stressed the need for sport to display its evidence more proficiently. I strongly believe that is it our role as academics to help the third sector improve its use of M & E. I would be delighted to talk with anyone who shares similar views or who has evidence of strong M & E practice to share.

To contact the author email: C.J.Corrigan@wlv.ac.uk or to link up on Twitter @CraigCorrigan81.