Recently the CCRI were commissioned to conduct an SROI (Social Return on Investment) on the Local Food Programme. SROI is a relatively new technique that aims to assess the financial contribution for outcomes that are not ordinarily associated with monetary values.
SROI is recognised by the Cabinet Office, and is becoming an increasingly widespread method within evaluation activities. Originating from the USA in the late 1990s it seeks to calculate a ratio of benefits-to-investment for outcomes such as improved mental/physical wellbeing or changes in environmental conditions that would not typically be associated with a monetary value. It became increasingly established throughout the ‘noughties’ and the SROI Network was formed in 2008. A history of SROI can be found on the SROI Network website.
Professor Paul Courtney who led the project, explains how the Big Lottery-funded Local Food Programme is generating real value for society beyond its original remit of making locally grown food accessible and affordable to local communities.
Building on the CCRIs wider evaluation of the Local Food, a Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis was undertaken to establish how many £s of value are generated for every £1 invested in the programme. Three case study projects took part in the SROI:
Growing Greenwich – A ‘Community Growing’ project building upon existing food growing projects and partnerships to promote local food, food growing and community cohesion;
Growing Well –An ‘Enterprise’ project which harnessing social and community enterprise in the food and horticultural sectors and also supporting people to nurture their own mental well-being ;
Get Growing – An ‘Education’ project which has created growing spaces in schools in Gloucestershire and is embedding food growing and education into school activities.
The researchers first met with a range stakeholders and beneficiaries from each of three areas to help understand the main outcomes of their project, and how one outcome might lead to another in a ‘chain of events’. For example, knowledge of food growing and provenance then leads to improved diet and in turn improved physical health over the longer term; and reduced social isolation through volunteering can lead to an increased sense of belonging leading to improved resilience and self-esteem.
Surveys were then used to measure improvements to mental health and well-being and questions around food expenditure and the extent to which people have reduced their supermarket spend in favour of more local food procurement, for example through box schemes, as well as their Local Food allotment.
In the final stage financial proxies were identified in order to assign a monetary value to each of the outcomes. So for example the unit cost of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was used as a proxy for improved mental health, and average weekly household food spend was used to approximate the improvements to food affordability as a result of the programme.
The findings revealed that, based on the three case studies involved, every £1 invested in Local Food (including not only the grants but also the value of volunteer time and other in-kind contributions) is generating just under £7 for society, representing a 700% return on investment for Local Food.
The value of the initial investment is being returned directly through training, education and skills, with the majority of additional benefits attributed to health and well being, community benefits in terms of increased participation and vibrancy, impacts on the local economy and improved food affordability.
Through helping people and communities to shape their own future, Local Food is generating real value for its host communities and for wider society.