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

Claire Louise Hutchinson, Angela Berndt, Deborah Forsythe, Susan Gilbert-Hunt, Stacey George, Julie Ratcliffe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives 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. Design Systematic review. Settings Community and residential settings. Participants A wide range of demographic groups and age groups. Results 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. Conclusion 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 CRD42018080195.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere029789
Number of pages6
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

(CC-BY 4.0) Open Access article licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license (


  • health economics
  • social care
  • social impact
  • social return on investment
  • SROI


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