This toolkit has been developed through collaborations between the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), the Real Farming Trust (RFT) and Community Food Businesses (CFBs) dating back to 2016.
The process has been collective, participatory and involved co-production of ideas and outputs through a series of workshops and meetings between the research team (CAWR) and individual Community Food Businesses
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The toolkit is a structured multi-media repository of useful information, tools and indicators to help understand social impact and outcomes associated with the work of Community Food Businesses.
It can also be considered a framework to assist in understanding how social impact can be achieved, and to visualise the various pathways that can be followed to both instigate and evidence impact at the community scale.
There are already several toolkits and methods that can be adopted to assess social impact within agriculture and food systems, and also other community sectors. However, there is a need for a toolkit that is relevant to the burgeoning Community Food Business Sector.
Moreover, existing toolkits often require external, technical input from e.g. academics, and this is something we wanted to avoid.
The toolkit here has been collectively designed to be more ‘stand-alone’ and user friendly, and able to be implemented with minimal input from external stakeholders (such as academics or NGOs).
However, this toolkit compliments multiple knowledges and ways of working with different groups (e.g. farmers, academics, community networks, businesses, NGOs, charities) and is conducive for use within collaborative projects.
The toolkit has been developed by, and for, Community Food Businesses.
We draw on the definition as described by Power To Change, who define Community Businesses as those who are
They are rooted in a particular geographical place and respond to its needs. For example, that could be high levels of urban deprivation or rural isolation.
They are businesses. Their income comes from things like renting out space in their buildings, trading as cafes, selling produce they grow or generating energy.
They are accountable to local people, for example through a community shares offer that creates members who have a voice in the business’s direction.
They benefit and impact their local community as a whole. They often morph into the hub of a neighbourhood, where all types of local groups gather, for example to access broadband or get training in vital life skills.
Community Food Businesses therefore incorporate principles and practices of agroecology and food sovereignty due to the scale of operations, type of governance structure, their fundamental mission and nature of the food and farming systems they seek to deliver and/or change.
Community Food Businesses operate at the local, community scale, which although relative terms, are generally comprised of shorter food supply chains with less complex arrangements and intermediaries associated with more conventional food, larger scale food systems.
This toolkit in its current form is designed to assist CFBs in instigating and evidencing their social impact; both within the business (e.g. across staff) and within the wider communities that they are embedded (e.g. consumers, volunteers, local residents).
Building an evidence base at each individual CFB scale is the first step to achieving a more sectoral perspective, and for the toolkit to be applicable to other contexts and sectors.
How do you 'do' social impact and what steps do you need to take to meet your aims?
The Social Impact Lifecycle (see diagram below) has been developed to guide and support Community Food Businesses in the planning, delivery and evidencing of social impact.
The lifecycle involves seven steps that your organisation needs to consider to deliver social impact over a given period (such as a calendar year, or for the duration of a funded project).
The methodology draws on the principles of Social Impact Assessment and is being applied by Community Food Businesses within the Real Farming Trust's Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme (LEAP).
For each step of the lifecycle, the following list outlines the types of questions and issues that you need to consider:
Project vision, aims and ambition – why are we doing what we are doing?
What is our theory of change and do we need one?
What does / will your project do to achieve these goals?
What is social impact and why does it matter for Community Food Businesses?
What/where are the social impact needs within our communities, sector and locality (e.g. JSNA, council, local and national Government?). Have these ‘changed’?
What is the community’s opinion about social impact and need?
What are we / could we be doing to address need given your project resources?
What funding can we access to support our social impact journey?
What are the key policy levers we can draw on to frame and justify our social impact strategy?
Who are the key stakeholders within the project and community?
Who and where are the affected communities we are / want to be working with?
Who is in/excluded and what might be missing?
Can we realistically achieve what we want to achieve given the various different people, groups and timescales involved?
INDICATORS & TOOLS
Breaking the toolkit down - domains, outcomes, indicators and tools
Quantitative and Qualitative approaches – which is the most appropriate?
Which indicators are relevant to our project?
What tools and methods can we realistically implement to gather social impact data?
What resources are there to do this, who will do it, and how?
Why do we need a baseline dataset and what tools can help us see changes over time?
How often should we be monitoring and collecting/producing data?
What are the right tools and indicators for each task?
What is Plan B if things go wrong or do not materialise as hoped?
ANALYSIS & COMMUNICATION
How and when will data be collated and analysed?
What stories do we want to communicate, to whom, and to what end?
How do we avoid biased responses and the ‘echo chamber’ issue?
What formats and platforms will be used to showcase evidence and influence our audiences?
How will we ensure that those who need to see our evidence (e.g. participants, local policymakers) can do so in an appropriate format (e.g. report, visuals)?
Who are we accountable to?
What went well and what did not? Why might this be?
Do we need external support or expertise in the future?
What can we learn from other groups and should we reach out to other businesses about how best to approach social impact?
How do we know if we have been successful / are achieving our aims?
How can we mitigate risk (e.g. burnout, time constraints, staff turnover, funding issues)?
How can we share our journey and critically discuss experiences with the sector?
What would have happened to the affected communities had our project not intervened or existed? (i.e. the extent to which impact is attributable to your work)
The impact or aim is linked to the aims and visions of the project, and frame what the project is trying to achieve (e.g.to deliver social impact, to make healthy food accessible)
Central themes such as social impact are typically conceptual, which is why we need a series of ‘tools’ and ‘layers’ (such as indicators, outcomes) about how to ‘get’ to something abstract like social impact.
Indeed, the aims of projects at the community scale are often broad, abstract / intangible and require an understanding of outcomes to measure / assess (using indicators) if the aim or central theme is being achieved. The core aims of a project are usually achieved through objectives and/or smaller or a culmination of incremental goals. This is where the domains and outcomes (the next outer ring in the circle) are helpful.
The domain is the field or sphere in which outcomes occur, and which subsequently can be drawn upon to argue that impact (in this case social impact) is being achieved.
For example, the domain of 'health' incorporates outcomes related to mental and physical health and well-being. When connected and assessed together, this generates a broader understanding of the health domain and thus an aspect of social impact.
The toolkit has 3 domains. These are HEALTH, COMMUNITY, and LIVELIHOODS. They are inevitably interconnected and relational as opposed to exclusive. Each are now explained.
Health refers to the health of individuals (physical and mental health), and their sense of well-being.
The health of a community is determined by, for example, the quality of life of people therein.
Health is determined by a range of factors (e.g. exercise, lifestyle, connectedness, diet, access to food, loneliness). Practices related to health are important to understand and assess. Evidencing how your project improves people's health and to consider the impact of interventions (e.g. your project or an activity within your project), we need a domain of health, which as noted previously, is a vital component of social impact and thriving communities and economies.
Communities operate and function at different scales (local-regional-national), in different ways (online, 'face-to-face') and with different frequencies of engagement (daily, weekly, annually).
Community refers to your organisational, project community (e.g. staff, volunteers, trainees)
Community can refer to the wider local communities in which you are embedded and provide for (e.g. local residents, local organisations such as schools, consumers of your food products).
Community also extends to national and international scales. For example, you and/or your project may be part of a network or community (e.g. Land Workers Alliance, CSA Network). These are all communities and being part of, and engaged within a community, is an important component of social impact.
Livelihoods are interconnected with social impact, particularly when approached from the context of sustainability, meaningful work, security of work, and quality of work / vocation / mission or employment. A livelihood is defined as:
“A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base.”
Income generation is undoubtedly an important part of livelihoods, and so this aspect has generally remained at the core of Sustainable Livelihood Framework discussions in the past decade (Scoones 2009).
However, income is not the only aspect that matters and the term livelihood does not always have anything to do with working or earning per se (De Haan 2000: 343).
Indeed, the assets and resources that people draw upon for their livelihoods can be regarded as “vehicles for instrumental action (making a living), but also as hermeneutic action (making living meaningful) and emancipatory action (challenging the structures under which one makes a living) (Bebbington 1999: 2022).
These are the changes, benefits, learning or other effects that happen as a result of the work and activities undertaken by the projects.
They are not necessarily directly measurable, but contribute to achieving the aim(s)
Outcomes may occur at different scales (e.g. individual, community, structures/systems).
There are 8 outcomes within this toolkit framework, and each are now explained.
People who have changed - or sustained - behaviours and consumption practices as a result of engaging with your project.
Practices that are of interest in the context of community food includes, for example, eating, cooking, shopping, eating in / out more / less often.
Changes in people's mental and physical health and sustaining good mental and physical health and sense of well-being
What is personal well-being?
Personal well-being is also known as “subjective well-being”. It is about people evaluating their own lives. There are several ways in which this is looked at by researchers who study well-being. These include asking people to evaluate how satisfied they are with their life overall, asking whether they feel they have meaning and purpose in their life, and asking about their emotions during a particular period. Office for National Statistics (ONS) measures of personal well-being ask people to assess each of these aspects of their lives.
Focus groups with members of the public conducted by ONS in 2013 found that the term “personal well-being” is clearer and simpler to understand than “subjective well-being”. In light of this, both the questions and findings from them have been referred to by ONS as “personal well-being” since then.
Inter-connections refer to the relationships and partnerships that your project has made.
It also refers to the relationships that have been made and/or consolidated amongst the community.
Inter-connections in the context of the community and your project will likely encompass a degree of shared or common values. The benefit and effect of these relations is often described as social capital, which is an asset for community building and strongly associated with delivering social impact.
Community engagement is about the collaborative and collective ways of thinking, behaving and 'doing'. This occurs between your project and the people you serve (e.g. members, consumers) as well as the community in which you are embedded (e.g. local residents, schools).
Community engagement works best where it is an ongoing cumulative process enabling relationships and trust to build and strengthen over time. Individual engagement events should be planned and designed with this in mind and aim to contribute to the overall aims of the engagement process.
See the Big Lottery Community Planning Toolkit: Community Engagement
Inclusion refers to the participation of people and communities in your project's activities.
Inclusion is about being transparent and democratic in terms of how your project operates; respecting people's opinions and knowledge about how to achieve collective goals.
Inclusion is also inherent within social justice and equality. For example, your project may seek to work with a particular marginalised group of people (such as those in food poverty) to improve that particular community’s well-being or health, or access to quality food.
Inclusion and inclusivity is also a useful frame to reflect on the extent to which your project is accessing all members of the community in which you are embedded.
Opportunities in the context of community food activities refers to the spaces and roles available to people to engage and participate.
Opportunities can be formal such as jobs, but can also be more informal, such as the creation of spaces for dialogue and engagement amongst communities and between the project and communities.
Opportunities for the project to expand or consolidate (e.g. access land) are also important as it reflects the wider spatial context of the places in which projects are situated.
Knowledge is about the information and understanding that is gained as a result of engaging with your project. Knowledge is an asset within communities, and is often referred to as human capital.
Skills are the practical capabilities that you develop and hone as a result of applying knowledge and understanding gained from the project.
Training is about the application of knowledge and skills that are acquired as a result of engaging with your project. Training may be longitudinal (over time and ongoing) or one off (e.g. a day). Training may also enable you to achieve an externally recognised qualification.
See the Good Finance guide on outcomes related to employment, training and education
Community Economic Impact refers to the socio-economic outcomes associated with your project and the people within the community in which you are embedded.
Sometimes referred to as Community Economic Development, which engages with the question of how the profits reinvested in the local community deliver more social impact.
The tangible, measurable activities and/or changes that contribute to the realisation of broader outcomes, impacts and aims.
Indicators are typically quantifiable and related to specific activities undertaken by projects.
This toolkit contains 22 indicators. Each indicator is able to be evidenced through the use of a data capturing tool, such as a focus group, survey or evaluation template.
Tools are the practical means of gathering or capturing data and information required to meet the criteria specified in the indicator(s).
Tools are designed to gather data. This can be, for example, numerical (quantitative) as well as conversational or visual/artistic information (qualitative).
Examples of common tools used amongst community businesses are questionnaires or surveys to find out what the people who interact with them think about a variety of things (such as customer service, value for money, what they have learned through engaging with projects).
Qualitative tools include techniques that capture less-easily quantifiable information (such as thoughts, ideas and reflections from people).
Quantitative tools allow data such as numbers, percentages and amounts to be collected. This information is readily able to be reduced to a figure or statistic.
This toolkit contains a total of 17 tools. This is indicative and not exhaustive. There are likely other approaches / methods / tools that may be suitable for your project as a means to capture data not documented here.
These tools are designed to be used on two levels: the internal, project level, and the external, community level. There is some crossover for many of the tools. For example, a focus group with volunteers (external) and staff (internal) incorporates both aspects, as does ‘Twine’, which is an online platform and app that can be used to log volunteer hours and activity either by a project lead (internal) or volunteers themselves (external).
Luke Owen is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience based at Coventry University. Luke uses his social scientist background to conduct his research in Alternative Food Networks and Short Food Chains and how they contribute to rural development and the livelihoods of small-scale food producers.
Clare Horrell is an Executive Director of the Real Farming Trust. Over the last 12 years she has been working directly with food and farming enterprises around the UK developing and managing funding, networking, mentoring and impact programmes to support their development.
Ben Cook is a documentary and fiction film-maker based in the U.K. His documentary work has covered topics including mental illness, social housing, food security, the environment, drone warfare, women refugees and aids awareness. He has also produced biographies of artists and charity workers. In 2017 he co-founded the 1201 Project.
Paul Wongsam from Netfly design is a freelance graphic designer and web design/developer. He's worked on a wide range of projects at CAWR ranging from brochure design to the development of the soon to be launched Social Impact Toolkit website.
Laurence Campbell is an artist and filmmaker based in the UK. He is the cofounder of an arts collective called Anti/Type and his work often combines a diverse range of artistic techniques and media to create experimental film, animation and illustration works.
I don’t know if I’ve changed my diet but I know by being a member here, I’ve helped change other people’s diets because I teach people how to cook as well and then I’m part of a community where we would come here once a week, volunteer, bring a crew of people and everyone would do stuff and in exchange they get amazing vegetables.
Member and Volunteer of a Community Food Business, UK, 2019