Social Audit Network workshop Liverpool 1

Social accounting and social auditing are now mainstream activities in the world of social enterprises and those organisations contributing to the social good. Essentially, York St John underwent the process only last May to achieve the Social Enterprise Gold Mark but we need to embed our own auditing systems in order to inform our practice and help us to move forward.

There is nothing new about social audits. According to the SAN website, the term dates back to the 1950s when there was a move to make businesses more accountable to the community. In the 1970s and 1980s in the UK there was a need to look at the social impact of the changes in the restructuring of the economy as the old heavy industries declined. Later, consumers became more interested in this and the impact of industry and, importantly, their own patterns of consumer behaviour. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) began to assume more importance and the language of stakeholders underlines the notion that different groups are affected by the actions of businesses and organisations as well as local and national authorities.

It is a reaction to conventional accounting principles that focus on the financial and economic perspectives. Instead, social goals and values are also considered. The term often used is ‘the triple bottom line’ i.e. social, environmental and economic. Arguably, we could talk in terms of a ‘quadruple bottom line’ (beware, others have already adopted the term to mean different things) and talk also about the cultural benefits. Hull, for example, place a great deal of emphasis on the social, environmental and cultural benefits as well as the economy benefits to the city and region.

The workshop in Liverpool took us through the four-step process of arriving at a social audit. Essentially, the four steps set out to answer these questions:

What difference do we want to make?

How do we know we are making a difference?

What is the difference we are making?

Can we prove that we made a difference?

What an organisation needs to do is to have a clear vision, mission and articulated values and objectives along with an understanding and appreciation of who the stakeholders are. It then needs to decide what it can measure (taking into account cost, capacity, scope, purpose and audience) and why it is doing the exercise. Much of the information is already collected for other purposes (especially an institution like a University) that is so rigorously monitored and accountable) and, having collected the information, the next step is to prepare a draft statement and arrange an audit.

The important thing is to embed the process of social auditing as part of a natural cycle of management activities that will guide and inform the institution. If it is a chore and not understood or appreciated by the employees or the stakeholders, it might well be of little value. In essence, it is about the social impact of what we do. Are we really making a difference? How much? How do we know? How can we do better?

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One thought on “Social Audit Network workshop Liverpool

  • Mark Dransfield

    Many thanks for this article, Mike. I enjoyed reading it. I am left with the pragmatic question of how we might embed the social auditing process into management cycles and what cycles would be best placed as the vehicle to achieve embeddedness? Should the University complete a review of its paperwork in order to update pro-formas so that they align with the ideas of social innovation/enterprise, or are there other ways? Did the workshop give any indications of the ‘how to do it’, as well as the ‘what needs to be done’?