Case study

Measuring social return on investment for the North York Moors

We measured the health and wellbeing benefits of the North York Moors National Park using a Social Return on Investment (SROI) approach. We found that the park creates positive impacts worth £7 for every £1 of government investment.

Sutton Bank at dusk. Credit: Welcome to Yorkshire / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Sutton Bank at dusk. Credit: Welcome to Yorkshire / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The issue

National Parks receive significant government funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), but they can’t easily show what value they create in return.

North York Moors National Park (NYMNP) provides opportunities for people to engage in a wide range of activities. These are not confined to outdoor pursuits such as walking and cycling, but also include a wide range of initiatives such as volunteering programmes, explorer clubs and school-related schemes.

These different projects and activities clearly have a positive impact on people’s quality of life. They contribute to improved health and wellbeing by increasing activity levels through outdoor exercise, connecting people with nature, and promoting social cohesion through, for example, volunteering opportunities.

Seeking to understand the extent of their impact, NYMNP asked our researchers to calculate its social value.

The research

To calculate the health and wellbeing impacts for visitors and volunteers, the researchers adopted a Social Return on Investment (SROI) approach. SROI is an established method for valuing the changes that an organisation brings about through its activities.

It’s hard to be precise when quantifying social impact. It often involves placing monetary values on intangible outcomes. SROI provides a transparent framework, guided by a core set of principles, which helps researchers to take a prudent approach, being careful not to overinflate the value created.

The SROI approach also provides a contextual narrative to capture the experiences of visitors and volunteers. It allows people to describe how their health and wellbeing has changed through, for example, walking in the park or working alongside other volunteers on park projects. This gives organisations such as NYMNP a deeper understanding of the benefits they are bringing about for different groups.

The outcome

The SROI calculated for the North York Moors is £7 for every £1 from DEFRA; a return seven times the value of the investment. The research helped NYMNP to demonstrate the positive impact it has on health and wellbeing for visitors and volunteers.

In addition, NYMNP has identified the benefits volunteers get from increasing their social contacts, giving back to the community, engaging in physical activity and acquiring knowledge about the park and its wildlife. Visitors benefit from the physical activity too, and also enhance their wellbeing by immersing themselves in awe-inspiring natural landscapes.

Featured researcher

Philip Linsley

Professor of Accounting and Risk

Philip’s main research focus is on risk. He is interested in risk reporting and how firms can usefully provide risk information to investors and other stakeholders. He is also interested in broader issues of risk, risk management and culture.

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Featured researcher

Robert McMurray

Professor of Work and Organisation

Robert's research explores the intertwined themes of the culture, emotions, ethics and wellbeing. It seeks to offer real benefit to individuals, organisations and society. His methods include interviews, observation and ethnography, and visual methods such as photo elicitation and photo mosiac.

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