REDF's Commitment to Measurement and Evaluation

The challenges facing our society are complex and interconnected. In order to create substantive change provide economic opportunity for all citizens, we must make decisions based on rigorous research and hard evidence. That means testing which models and practices are working, strengthening the most promising programs, and expanding those that have a measurable impact in order to help more people in need. By taking that approach, we can solve society’s most intractable problems.

Between 1998 and 2007, REDF partnered with the evaluation firm BTW Informing Change—named after founders Jill Blair, Fay Twersky, and Paul Wisotzky—to pioneer the concept of “Social Return on Investment (SROI)”. SROI measures enterprises’ social benefits to society through outcomes such as greater income and increased housing stability for employees, reduced taxpayer burden via lower reliance on government assistance, and reduced rates of recidivism. The measurement and evaluation that came out of REDF’s early era produced a myriad of publicly available tools, a wealth of impact reports, and new methods to measure the impact of social enterprise employment. SROI became a globally-accepted approach to guide decision-makers in the public and private sectors.

In 2011, the combination of capital and expert technical assistance to social enterprises was further tested as we scaled our efforts upon receiving a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant. The SIF’s support enabled us to codify our program logic model, develop the infrastructure and logistics to help groups outside of the Bay Area, and understand the demands of conducting a more rigorous evaluation than has even been done at REDF so far.

REDF partnered with the Mathematica Policy Institute, an evaluation firm with deep expertise in social policy research. Mathematica aimed to investigate the impact of REDF’s capital and expert technical assistance on the beneficiaries of the social enterprises we supported. The Mathematica Jobs Study (MJS) published in 2015, looked into whether or not participants at these social enterprises had higher employment and better life stability one year after they began their social enterprise jobs. In addition, the MJS delved into the economic case of social enterprise by conducting a cost benefit analysis of REDF’s portfolio.

The MJS delivered encouraging results. Before becoming employed by the social enterprise, only 18% of participants were working. One year later, more than half (51%) were still employed there or at another job. Results indicate it was the social enterprise job that made the difference. Participants who had worked at a social enterprise and experienced the training and support that job provided were more likely to remain employed, as compared to a control group that received traditional workforce development services but no social enterprise job. Major indicators of life stability also improved by the time of follow up, including an increase in total monthly income from $653 to $1,246, reduced reliance on government assistance programs, and an increase in continuous stable housing. Moreover, Mathematica found that every dollar that the portfolio enterprises spent generated $2.23 in societal benefits, more than doubling the initial investment.

In 2015, REDF received a second SIF grant, which facilitated the selection of 21 social enterprises nationally to receive funding and technical assistance.

The second impact evaluation on behalf of the Social Innovation Fund aims to build upon the successes of the MJS by dramatically increasing the level of rigor, geographic reach, and sector diversity being tested. REDF’s external evaluator, RTI International, will be conducting a hybrid impact study that includes a subset of grantees to participate in a Gold Standard Randomized Control Trial.

In addition to the impact study, REDF will conduct an implementation study and a cost benefit analysis to calculate the SROI of this 21-member portfolio. In partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight, REDF will collect feedback on participants’ perceptions of their social enterprise work experience and evaluate whether this feedback can predict future employment success and life stability.

The second SIF evaluation will produce an interim report at the end of 2018 and a final report in the Spring of 2021. The Perceptual Feedback study will be released in tandem with the impact evaluation.