Social Impact Framework

Supporting service providers and government to assess how well a program is meeting the evidence-based conditions for social impact.

The framework represents a significant shift in thinking about how government:

  • assesses and optimises the impact that community sector and government activities have on society
  • builds collaborative partnerships with the non-government sector.

Research, provider expertise and the lived experience of people accessing services show that a program, initiative or service has the best chance of creating social impact if they meet the three key elements of the Social Impact Framework.

The key elements of the Social Impact Framework

  1. Aligned to outcomes – Social impact objectives
  2. Designed for impact – Design criteria
  3. Developed in partnership – Partnership principles

These three elements are underpinned by a Social Impact Framework Assessment Tool that covers a range of discussion points, designed to spark deeper shared understanding of how a program, initiative or service is generating impact for individuals, families and communities.

How was the framework developed?

The framework has been developed with the Department of Human Services (DHS) by the Australian Alliance for Social enterprise (TAASE) at the University of South Australia.

What informed the development of the framework?

The framework was informed by:

  • national and international literature and research
  • best practice case studies in human services reform and contemporary commissioning practice
  • feedback from a Social Impact Steering Committee, with representation of DHS and community services sector leaders
  • targeted consultation with DHS contract managers, policy developers and procurement advisers
  • community services sector survey inputs from January 2019 and sector consultation on Australian Service Excellence Standards
  • the DHS Strategic Plan
  • South Australian Not for Profit Funding Rules and Guidelines (SANFRAG) Principles, now known as Premiers Circular 044
  • SA Government’s Commissioning Guideline
  • a review of all program logic and outcomes for funded programs in DHS community and family services.

What sector consultation occurred?

Following initial development, the draft framework was refined and strengthened with input from the sector and the strategic guidance of the DHS-funded peak organisations.

The following consultations were held:

  • four focus group sessions with community and family services peak organisations
  • two provider ‘think-tank’ sessions with 16 non-government providers of community and family services
  • targeted provider engagement with additional 4 non-government providers
  • feedback session with Critical Sector Friends with extensive expertise across human service fields (and no current funding arrangements with DHS)
  • feedback session with Aboriginal-controlled organisations and advisers
  • a testing and trial of the framework with 2 providers, one a multicultural organisation with predominantly CALD clients.

How will the framework be used?

The framework can be used by both government funders and service providers to better articulate what actual impact is coming from the activities we are investing in.

This means impact that is:

  • positive and meaningful for people seeking support
  • extended in scope beyond individuals to include families, communities and societies
  • future-focused with the potential to drive sustainable change in lives and communities.

How will the framework be used by providers?

For providers, the framework presents an opportunity to assist government to better understand constraints and strengths in how services are being delivered and enables them to identify challenges and risks, as well as areas where additional government support or capacity building would be beneficial.

It also encourages providers to highlight successful approaches or innovations that could usefully be up-scaled or more broadly shared across a program or the wider sector.

How will the framework be used by DHS?

For government, the framework provides a consistent and evidence-based mechanism to assess the individual, community and societal impacts that are being returned through its investment.

DHS can use the framework to:

  • review existing funding to enhance alignment and collaboration between funded programs and create greater whole-of-system coordination
  • assess new initiatives or proposals for funding for their potential to generate social impact
  • identify provider strengths and common areas where capacity building is required to strengthen impact potential
  • assess investment across multiple programs (within a place-based location, across DHS or even other government agencies).

Social Impact Framework Assessment Tool

The Assessment Tool uses 9 steps to assess and optimise the social impact potential of investment in community and family services.

Each of the nine steps cover a range of discussion points, designed to spark deeper shared understanding of how a program, initiative or service is generating social impact.

The Social Impact Framework is not designed to be a compliance tool and is intended to provide greater value than simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.

Steps 1–6 assist with assessing the capacity of an initiative or overall investment to generate social impact.

Steps 7–9 are systems-orientated and are focused on supporting optimisation of service delivery to generate maximum social impact.

The 9 Steps of the Assessment Tool

Aligned to outcomes:

  • Step 1 – Government priorities
  • Step 2 – Social impact objectives
  • Step 3 – Outcome indicators.

Designed for impact:

  • Step 4 – Evidence informed
  • Step 5 – People-centred approaches
  • Step 6 – Systemised alliances.

Developed in partnership:

  • Step 7 – Shared accountability
  • Step 8 – Relationship-based
  • Step 9 – Capacity for improvement.


View the Social Impact Framework resources for further information on how they can support a better understanding of the actual or potential social impact of a program.

Social Impact Framework (PDF 8.0 MB)

Social Impact Framework (DOCX 35.9 KB)

Social Impact Framework Assessment Tool (PDF 451.0 KB)

Social Impact Framework Assessment Tool (DOCX 39.0 KB)

Page last updated 19 September 2023