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Valuing the impact of health and social care programs using social return on investment analysis: how have academics advanced the methodology? A systematic review

Por: Hutchinson · C. L. · Berndt · A. · Forsythe · D. · Gilbert-Hunt · S. · George · S. · Ratcliffe · J.

To identify how social return on investment (SROI) analysis—traditionally used by business consultants—has been interpreted, used and innovated by academics in the health and social care sector and to assess the quality of peer-reviewed SROI studies in this sector.


Systematic review.


Community and residential settings.


A wide range of demographic groups and age groups.


The following databases were searched: Web of Science, Scopus, CINAHL, Econlit, Medline, PsychINFO, Embase, Emerald, Social Care Online and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Limited uptake of SROI methodology by academics was found in the health and social care sector. From 868 papers screened, 8 studies met the criteria for inclusion in this systematic review. Study quality was found to be highly variable, ranging from 38% to 90% based on scores from a purpose-designed quality assessment tool. In general, relatively high consistency and clarity was observed in the reporting of the research question, reasons for using this methodology and justifying the need for the study. However, weaknesses were observed in other areas including justifying stakeholders, reporting sample sizes, undertaking sensitivity analysis and reporting unexpected or negative outcomes. Most papers cited links to additional materials to aid in reporting. There was little evidence that academics had innovated or advanced the methodology beyond that outlined in a much-cited SROI guide.


Academics have thus far been slow to adopt SROI methodology in the evaluation of health and social care interventions, and there is little evidence of innovation and development of the methodology. The word count requirements of peer-reviewed journals may make it difficult for authors to be fully transparent about the details of their studies, potentially impacting the quality of reporting in those studies published in these journals.

PROSPERO registration number


Valuing the impact of health and social care programmes using social return on investment analysis: how have academics advanced the methodology? A protocol for a systematic review of peer-reviewed literature

Por: Hutchinson · C. L. · Berndt · A. · Gilbert-Hunt · S. · George · S. · Ratcliffe · J.

Unlike other forms of evaluation, social return on investment (SROI) methodology offers a way of placing values on personal, social and community outcomes, not just economic outcomes. Developed in 2000, there have been calls for greater academic involvement in development of SROI, which to date has been more typically implemented in-house or by consultants. This protocol describes a systematic review of SROI analysis conducted on health and social care programmes which represent a significant sector of social enterprise internationally. The aims of the systematic review are to (1) identify the extent to which academics have adopted SROI methodology, (2) how academics have interpreted, used and developed SROI methodology and (3) to assess the quality of studies published under peer review.

Methods and analysis

The systematic review will include peer-reviewed studies since 2000 published in English. Search terms will be ‘social return on investment’ or ‘SROI’. Health and social care interventions will be identified in the initial screening given the proliferation of possible key words in these areas. Databases to be searched include Web of Science, Scopus, Medline, Social Care Online and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Two reviewers will independently conduct initial screening based on titles and abstracts against the inclusion criteria. Data extracted will include date of intervention, country, study design, aim of intervention/programme, participants and setting, health and social care measures used, and SROI ratio. The quality of studies will be assessed by two reviewers using a SROI quality framework designed for the purpose of this study.

Ethics and dissemination

The systematic review will review existing published academic literature; as such, ethics approval is not required for this study. A paper of the systematic review will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.

PROSPERO registration number