Addressing social return on investment with systems techniques: a British Waterways Programme

Jane Searles
16 April 2012

In June 2012, British Waterways will move out of the public sector and become the Canal and River Trust (CRT) within the third sector. This has been their ambition since 2009, but government acceptance came with an extremely challenging timescale. The build up and deployment of a body of volunteers within their organisation was a key part of their change strategy.

Currently, the organisation’s KPIs: Volunteer time and Propensity to recommend are used to assess this element of their change strategy. Volunteer’s time is collected nationally, consisting of hours worked, volunteers’ skill levels (unskilled, skilled, professional) and associated ‘worth’ of work done. These contribute towards demonstrating the value to the organisation but do not currently show the full value to the organisation, to society or to the volunteer. It is important to start to extend evaluation of the quality of volunteering work done as well as the quantity.

The first initiative in the programme, is a case study of volunteer lock keepers at Audlem on the Shropshire Union canal. This study is bringing together elements of Systems Practice and the government’s Social Return On Investment (SROI) method to create an approach which will both address the wider effects of volunteering in that community and also be useful in informing managers at all levels of the value delivered by volunteers.

This session will look at the approach in more detail and report on progress to date.

Jane is a BW/CRT volunteer who has jointly developed the programme with the National Volunteering Manager and is currently undertaking the first initiative.

Jane is a Director of SCiO and a Systems Consultant, currently embracing the SCiO PDP approach involving action learning. Her recent focus has been on systems metrics.