Maximise social value by listening to stakeholders and designing for sub-groups

Adidas, Disney, Samsung… all hugely profitable organisations and a large part of their success is because they all invest heavily in consumer intelligence. They know exactly who their consumers are, the way they behave and their preferences. Having detailed consumer profiles allows them to design shoes, films, phones etc that are exactly what their consumers want and make huge profits in the process.

The social enterprise sector can learn a lot from this relentless collection of data to drive innovation. A similar emphasis on consumer insight can ensure that they are relentlessly pursuing better services and outcomes for their customers (or beneficiaries). Unfortunately, a lot of social enterprises focus their data collection on the wrong things, principally whether they have met their objectives or not.

Focusing solely on objectives is a big problem for social enterprises. Of course, organisations need to know what their objectives (social goals) are and whether they are achieving these. But too often data collection revolves solely around this. There is not enough priority on collecting a bigger picture; richer data about their consumer behaviours that can be used to innovate and design better services.

To use one of our corporate examples; Adidas will of course collect data on their objectives – which might be; to sell x number of shoes and no doubt collect data about customer satisfaction too. But of most interest to them will be precisely who the customers are, what is it that they like or dislike about the shoes, what other shoes are people buying instead? It is this data that informs continuous innovation and the redesign of their products.

For a social enterprise providing a service for people at the bottom of the pyramid the data collection should be the same. To make sure they are maximising their social impact they must be asking themselves similar questions like; “precisely who is receiving our services?”, “what is it that they like or dislike about the service?” and “Who else is providing a similar experience?”.


What can be done?

Social Value International (SVI) are a membership organisation for anyone who is committed to maximising the social value that they create. At the heart of everything we do (training, guidance, campaigns, support) are seven Social Value Principles that help you to collect the data you need to innovate and provide services and products that have more social value for your stakeholders (beneficiaries).

The first step for any organisation is to embrace qualitative data and recognise that listening to your stakeholders is the most important thing they can do. Some might call it ‘ethnographic research’ or using a ‘grounded theory approach’ but fundamentally it is something that any organisation can and should be doing: talking to stakeholders and using simple open questions:

What changed for you? What did that lead to? Who else changes? What was most important to you? Who else contributed? Would this have happened anyway?

These are not difficult questions and probably ones that most organisations may already be asking but it is important to embed these in a data collection system and within the culture of the organisation. Dealing with qualitative data can be daunting and requires more thought than just collecting quantitative data. Social Value UK, a national network of SVI, have recently launched a new training course titled ‘Maximising Social Value’ and this explores some steps you can take to make sense of qualitative data and use it for decision making.

As well as asking open questions to establish a ‘customer journey’ it’s important to ask questions about their situation and any characteristics that might be unique to them. These characteristics might be detail about their demographics (Age, Gender, Ethnicity etc) or about their circumstances (Location, Qualifications or any other distinguishing factors).

The next step is to look for patterns within all of this qualitative data. Listen for shared experiences (or outcomes) among your stakeholders. Then, once you have identified a subgroup of stakeholders based on shared outcomes, the next step is to look for shared characteristics within this group. This will help you build up detailed sub-groups or ‘clusters’.

For example, you might be delivering support for long term unemployed people but a proportion of your stakeholders are not able to access the support or find work. Analysis of this group might reveal that they all have a shared characteristic; they all have caring responsibilities. This would allow you to redesign your services so that they are easier to access for people with caring responsibilities.

Many social enterprises are aware of these different clusters but they are perhaps not officially incorporated within their data collection systems and they are not being identified and used as a means to improve services. Innovation and design of better services becomes much easier when you are clustering your stakeholders based upon the experiences they share and their characteristics. This is exactly how profit seeking companies are able to create value because they design specifically for well defined sub-groups or clusters within their target market.

We believe that this kind of data collection and analysis is much more exciting (and dare I say ‘fun’) than collecting data on whether ‘outcome x has been achieved or not’. Going beyond intended outcomes by listening to stakeholders’ experiences and preferences makes you more accountable to your stakeholders and equips you with the data you need to innovate and improve your services.

SVI encourages innovation through the application of the seven Social Value Principles. You can see how well you are applying these principles through our free social value self-assessment tool. We also have a free online resource called the Global Value Exchange (GVE) which allows you to collect qualitative data (outcomes) that are unique to your project and defined by your stakeholders and connect it to the data (outcomes) that investors want to see. Juggling these two types of data is a challenge for all social enterprises. We hope that myGVE makes it easier to do both.

If you are interested in either the Social Value Self-Assessment Tool or GVE contact us on hello@socialvalueint.org.

This blog is a part of the February 2017 series on Customer intelligence revolutionising business at the Base of the Pyramid in partnership with Acumen Lean Data.  Access the series for interviews with social enterprises Dr.Consulta and D.light, as well as blogs from Business Call to Action, Social Value International and many more.

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