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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