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Social Auditing – feedback control for organisations

George Clark is an Education Management Advisor recently returned to the UK. Through separate contacts with Alana Albee ( co-author of NICDA materials) and John Pearce (co-author of NEF materials) he became interested in what is coming to be called Social Auditing because of how it mirrors and enlarges on the concept of Whole School Auditing which he was helping to develop in Lesotho.

This short paper is his attempt to document the key UK initiatives in the Social Audit field and to map the emergent training and certification possibilities.

(Contact: George Clark Tel: 01261 843950; email ggclark@srds.co.uk ; Web: www.srds.co.uk and www.caledonia.org.uk )



What is now coming to be called Social Auditing is similar in many ways to Financial Auditing except that it is about everything else that an organisation does apart from handling money.

Few people have official training in preparing budgets or in bookkeeping and accounting but most people have some idea of why it is necessary and what is involved. All the bits of paper and number crunching add up to a review process that is called Financial Auditing which is an official and measured statement of the extent to which you are effectively doing what you are supposed to be doing.

In both cases we are dealing with social ‘systems’ which survive in the long term only through being alive to feedback concerning both their internal (subsystem) and external (supersystem) environments. Effective and efficient organisations have a clear vision of where they are going and of how they are going to get there. The Social Audit process helps organisations achieve that clarity of purpose and efficiency of procedure.

Before a Social Audit can take place you have to be clear about:

bulletwhat you are trying to do as an organisation (objectives) – both internally and externally
bullethow you are going to do it (action plans)
bullethow you will measure and record the extent to which you are doing it (indicators)

When those are in place it is easy to design simple procedures to log what is going on from day to day (social bookkeeping) and to tally up the indicators every now and again (social accounting) to make sure that you are on target – and to do something about it if you are not!

The Social Auditor is a ‘critical friend’ (ideally an outsider) who periodically checks ‘the books’ and asks probing questions to help the organisation reflect systematically on the effectiveness of its internal operations as well as on its broad external impact.

The assistance of an experienced Social Auditor may be required at first to help an organisation clarify its objectives, indicators, actions plans, and recording and accounting procedures. Once the procedures are in place, however, the organisation will have developed the skills required for evolving the system.

At present at least four systems of Social Auditing have been developed in the UK but until recently it has not been possible to officially ‘certify’ people as effective Social Auditors. In what follows the key training materials are noted as are the emerging certification possibilities.

The Northern Ireland Co-operative Development Agency (NICDA)

"Social Auditing is a process which enables organisations and agencies to assess and demonstrate their social, community and environmental benefits and limitations. It is a way to measure the extent to which an organisation lives up to the shared values and objectives it has committed itself to promote."

The Social Audit Resource Pack (1996) Alana Albee and T Justad
Social Audit Training Manual C Whitehorn and A Albee
Social Audit Training Pack (1998) NICDA

Anne Molloy, Cecilia Whitehorn, NICDA, 23-25 Shipquay Street, Derry, BT48 6DC.

Tel: 01504 371733

email: NICDA_Derry@compuserve.com

NICDA has had a social audit course recognised through the Open College and is currently working with a second group of social enterprises in the province who are undertaking the training at the same time as doing a social audit of their own organisation. (Contact Anne Molloy)

The New Economics Foundation (NEF)

"Social auditing is the process whereby an organisation can account for its social performance, report on and improve that performance. It assesses the social impact and ethical behaviour of an organisation in relation to its aims and those of its stakeholders."

Social Auditing for Small Organisations – the Workbook J Pearce, P Raynard & S Zadek
Measuring Social Wealth – a study of social audit practice for community and co-operative enterprises John Pearce

Peter Raynard, NEF, Cinnamon House, 6-8 Cole Street, London, SE1 4HY.

Tel:0171 407 7447

email info@neweconomics.org

Website www.neweconomics.org

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) is running a nationwide social auditing pilot programme (Social Auditing for Voluntary Organisations – SAVO) involving 12 community and voluntary sector bodies throughout the UK. (Contact Sara Murphy, NEF, 0171 407 7447)

Partnering NEF in Scotland is the Community Business Scotland (CBS) Network which is launching its social audit initiative aimed at encouraging the spread of social auditing as the accepted way in which community and social enterprises can report regularly and competently on their performance to all stakeholders. (Contact John Pearce, CBS Network, 01506 872296)

The Institute of Social and Ethical AccountAbility (ISEA)

ISEA was established in 1996 as a professional body committed to strengthening the social responsibility and ethical behaviour of the business community and non-profit organisations. It has developed a set of objectives and training materials aimed at:

bulletfostering the international study of social accountability;
bulletaiding in the design and development of standards and measures of performance in the practice of social and ethical accounting, auditing and reporting (SEARR);
bulletencouraging the convergence of SEAAR standards with sustainability accounting, and
bulletdesigning and offering a professional qualification for social and ethical accountants and auditors that leads to an association of international chapters.

Institute of Social and Ethical AccountAbility, Thrale House, 44-46 Southwark Street, London SE1 1UN

Tel: 0171 407 7370

email: Secretariat@AccountAbility.org.uk

Website: www.AccountAbility.org.uk

Social Enterprise Partnership

"Social Audit is a method for organisations to plan, manage and measure non-financial activities and to monitor both the internal and external consequences of the organisation’s social and commercial operations."

Social Audit Toolkit (1997) Freer Spreckley

This handbook was first published in 1982 titled ‘Social Audit – a management tool for Cooperative Working’ by Freer Spreckley and published by Beechwood College

Social Enterprise Partnership, West Midlands House, Gypsy Lane, Willenhall WV13 2HA, UK.

Tel: 0121 6097190

The SEP in Birmingham now offers the National NVQ Course in Social Auditing

Contact Freer Spreckley or Cliff Southcombe on 01497 831770

Other Training & Certification Initiatives:

This information is taken from Social Auditing – what everyone wants; New Sector – The Magazine of Community and Cooperative Enterprise; Issue 35, May/June 1999. www.newsector.org.uk

In the City of Liverpool a second group of community-based economic development organisations is about to introduce social accounting and social auditing. Each organisation will nominate a social accountant who will undertake a new training programme which has been recently recognised as an accredited course by the Merseyside Open Learning Network. The Community Based Economic Development Unit of the City Council which is sponsoring the new course hopes to see social auditing accepted as the norm for reporting by community enterprises.

(Contact Mike Maguire or Helen Millne, CBED Unit, 0151 233 5428 0r 0151 233 5333

In Devon the Community Enterprise Unit, in association with the Devon CDA and the Community Council of Devon, have developed an NVQ programme in Business Planning suitable for people establishing social enterprises. Unit seven of the programme, Evaluate and Develop Own Practice, makes use of the Social Audit model.

(Contact Debbie Stewart or Helen Vines, CEU, 013392 666 281)

Linking Beyond:

The following august professional bodies are recognising that old style auditing is no longer sufficient:

ACCA The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants http://www.acca.org.uk/publications/aandb/199904_14.html

CIMA The Chartered Institute on Management Accountants http://www.cima.org.uk/

AltaVista is one of the more common Internet search engines. When I entered "social audit" (complete with quotation marks) it came up with 614 sites. A short selection is listed below

A movement in Australia to have a Social Audit of the State? http://www.labor.net.au/workers/magazine/8/news3_audit.html

A government movement in Canada to have a Social Audit to find the cause of poverty? http://www.pc.parl.gc.ca/news/stjacques/030399.htm

A six step approach for FOSTERing relationships http://www.corerelation.com/6steps.html

Jargon busting in the social audit arena http://www.crisp.org.uk/jargon.htm

Centre for Social and Environmental Research (University of Dundee) an info network http://www.dundee.ac.uk/accountancy/csear/aboutus.htm


Thanks to Graham Boyd of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (www.caledonia.org.uk) and Anne Molloy of NICDA for help in the preparation of this immediate paper, and to Alana Albee (now the DFID Social Development adviser for Tanzania), and to John Pearce and Alan Kay of CBS for having helped me get my head around the concept.



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