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Social Auditing - A Method of Determining Impact

Graham Boyd,  Alana Albee Consultants and Associates, 14 January 1998

This short paper was prepared under contract from Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It was part of a series of activities, commissioned papers and selected consultations undertaken by HIE to assist it in preparing a 3-year strategy and a set of operational modalities for the Community Land Unit project. The final shape of this exercise is outlined in the document - Community Land Unit Action Framework 1998 to 2001. The document has been widely circulated and is available from HIE. This short paper on social auditing sought to explore the relevance of adapting the community enterprises and voluntary association model of social auditing and its application to not-for-profit land sector.


bulletWhat is Social Auditing?
bulletWhat does Social Auditing Involve?
bulletHow could it be of use to Community Land Initiatives?
bulletThe Northern Ireland Experience, in a nutshell
bulletFurther Information

What is Social Auditing?

Social auditing is a process that enables an organisation to assess and demonstrate its social, economic, and environmental benefits and limitations. It is a way of measuring the extent to which an organisation lives up to the shared values and objectives it has committed itself to.

Social auditing provides an assessment of the impact of an organisation's non-financial objectives through systematically and regularly monitoring its performance and the views of its stakeholders.

Social auditing requires the involvement of stakeholders. This may include employees, clients, volunteers, funders, contractors, suppliers and local residents interested in the organisation. Stakeholders are defined as those persons or organisations who have an interest in, or who have invested resources in, the organisation.

Social audits are generated by the organisation themselves and those directly involved. A person or panel of people external to the organisation undertakes verification of the social audit's accuracy and objectivity.

What does Social Auditing Involve?

The social auditing process requires an intermittent but clear time commitment from a key person within the organisation. This social auditor liases with others in the organisation and designs, co-ordinates, analyses and documents the information collected during the process.

Social auditing information is collected through research methods that include social bookkeeping, surveys and case studies. The objectives of the organisation are the starting point from which indicators of impact are determined, stakeholders identified and research tools designed in detail.

The collection of information is an on-going process, often done in 12-month cycles and resulting in the organisation establishing social bookkeeping and the preparation of an annual social audit document/report.

Experience has shown that it is important to provide training to the social auditor as well as mentoring during the first few years. If well facilitated, social auditors from different organisations can become self-supporting for subsequent years.

How could it be of use to Community Land Initiatives?

A social audit can complement an organisation's annual financial audit by providing clear and succinct information on performance against social objectives. The results can be fed into the organisation's strategic review and planning processes to improve overall performance and social impact. It has been shown to increase accountability of the organisation to its stakeholders and to enhance democratic practice. In addition to serving as a management tool, social audits can be used for marketing, promotion and advocacy purposes. Many of these are key factors in community land initiatives.

The methodology of social auditing could be tailored to ensure baseline and comparable information was produced by community land associations themselves. This would enable the social, environmental and economic impact of land initiatives to be compared and contrasted by the Community Land Units for the HIE and Scottish Enterprise Network areas.

The Northern Ireland Experience, in a nutshell

The Social Economy Agency (Northern Ireland) began promoting social auditing in 1996. The first social audits involved training and mentoring 10-organisations. External consultants were used to design the social audit methodology, and provide training and support to auditors within each organisation. This process took between 18 to 24 months of decreasing levels of support.

The Northern Ireland Open College Network has accredited this social auditing approach to Level 3. A second round of organisations will begin the process in 1998. A detailed training manual has also been produced and can be obtained from the NI Social Economy Agency. See next section for details.

This example provides interesting lessons in how to establish a networked cluster of local auditors based within a range of organisations but who use common standards research methodology, and training/mentoring approach.

Further Information

The Social Audit Training Pack is available from Anne Molloy at the Social Economy Agency NI, 2 Bay Road, Derry, BT48 7SH Tel: 028 7137 1733 Fax: 028 7137 0114 e-mail:

Readers wishing to obtain more information on Social Auditing are referred to the following articles:

bulletSocial Auditing - Feedback Control for Organisations, George Clark, 1999
bulletAssessing Impact: Some Current and Key Issues, Alana Albee, 1999  

To obtain a copy of HIE's Community Land Unit Action Framework 1998 to 2001. Contact Lorna Campbell at the following e-mail address: