I recently have been reading a great journal, the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The Summer 2010 volume has a piece on the tricky task of measuring social value by Geoff Mulgan. The first step is defining social value, however. Mulgan (former policy director under UK Prime Minister Tony Blair) argues that when we assume that social value is fixed and stable – our gut instinct in attempting to measure something – we are overlooking social value as “malleable and variable.” Mulgan urges us to consider some rules of economics when measuring social value – it is “value”, after all. Isn’t value in the eye of the beholder, be it an organization or individual? We should also consider scale and size of organizations, along with mismatches in supply and demand. I am not doing his essay justice in this short paragraph, but he has a great way of viewing measurement tools outside the realm of only for governments, or nonprofits, or the business sector.
On another (unrelated?) note, the Spring 2010 issue alerted me to the website of The Extraordinaires. The entire premise of this social media group is that people can spend two minutes volunteering through their smart phones, instead of texting or playing a game. More importantly, they are volunteering whenever and wherever they want, instead of giving up an entire Saturday afternoon. Volunteers can do many things from taking a causeworthy photo and sending it to an organization to texting “study tips and inspirational messages to impoverished students preparing for high-stakes tests.”
So, does a two-minute smart-phone-using volunteer have that much less value than the Saturday-afternoon volunteer? Perhaps their value can’t be measured in linear time.