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Bringing SROI into the halls of government

Scott Richter has worked for the City of Medicine Hat for seven years and currently serves as the Business and Innovation Manager in the Parks and Recreation Department. He also has extensive experience in the not-for-profit sector, having worked for 13 years at the YCMA – including two as CEO, and sitting on the Board of the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society. 

Scott took a Social Value and SROI (social return on investment) course with Social Value Canada and kindly answered our questions about how the training has shaped his thinking and informed his work.   

Why did you want to take an SROI training course?  

There was a lot of talk in our municipal government about economic impact but not a bunch of focus on social or health impact. Bottom lines were driving business decisions in Parks and Recreation. We didn’t seem to be focusing on the impact to people when we cut services all in the name of a “healthy” bottom line.   

I was challenged by a senior executive that if there is a different way to look at what we do, and show that, he would be all ears. And from there I pursued a journey and found Social Value Canada and took the SROI training online

What was your experience of the course(s)?  

It was a good experience.  It brought forward some newer concepts but all were applicable because of the background I had in “Values” that I studied during my Master’s Thesis and my experience working in not-for-profits with the YMCA.  

What were the key takeaways?  

In my own words: 

It is about people and the positive or negative impact that decisions can have on people. 

It is a way to demonstrate another lens to look through and present an ‘eyes wide open’ approach to decision making.  

There is some good work out there, and more time needs to be spent figuring out how this work can be applied to business and other organizations in a not-too-complicated way that is meaningful to the work we do. 

How do you define Social Value? 

Social Value is one of those “innovations” that can be applied to all sectors, including recreation, to look at problems and issues through a non-traditional lens that not only betters the community but assists in a deeper understanding and meaning of the work and services that are provided and impact people. 

How has the training informed your work?  

I am able to speak from an informed area when the word “Social Value” is thrown around.  I can speak from the things I have learned and literature I have access to, which helps round out thoughts, present alternate perspectives and views that sometimes are not brought up in traditional decision making. 

Have you had a chance to commission an SROI?  

We were going to do some pretty heavy lifting and had asked Stephanie Robertson (Social Value Canada’s Acting Executive Director) to support as a resource.  There was significant conversations about opening new recreation facilities and closing others.  There has been a lot of talk about the “Social Impact” and measuring the impact of these openings and closures.   

So far we have not gone that far but I still believe there will be some sort of SROI in the near future.  I have presented at the Alberta Parks and Recreation Association with Stephanie Robertson which helped the Recreation Industry gain perspective on social value, which I believe has contributed to the fuller understanding of what Social Value / Impact is and how it might be applied to Parks and Recreation Departments and municipalities and in the public realm. 

What advice would you offer to someone who was interested in conducting an SROI? 

Talk to others that have done it. 

Read other SROIs that may have been done in similar situations. 

Take some training. It is helpful for understanding the steps and what is involved.