Etienne Wenger’s ideas about communities of practice (http://wenger-trayner.com/theory/) provide a useful foundation for the research that is involved in Social Return on Investment (SROI) calculations, because in SROI we are trying to assess the value of the change that occurs in a network or community as a result of actions undertaken by some of its members. We’re also aware that a community of practice is never an isolated, self-contained entity, but rather a part of a larger community of practise which may or may not even be aware of the activities of the smaller entity or their impact on the larger system.
As such, the defining characteristics of “domain”, “community” and “practice” will prove useful in organizing an SROI. As well, the key activities of a community of practice (problem-solving, requests for information, etc) will be valuable way-markers to ensure that the system being assessed is being analyzed in a comprehensive way.
Practically speaking, if we apply Wenger’s model to SROI, we can begin the analysis and the definition of the stakeholders by exploring the domain, community and practise associated with the project/program/services being assessed. We can then review that system through the lens of the activities that Wenger has noted. Inevitably, this will allow to emerge a variety of subtle interactions within a community that may in fact be having great impact on the system as a whole.
This results in a far more realistic and thorough review of the components of a community or system than the linear Logic Model which theoretically contains a rational theory of change (but which should more aptly be called a “theory of wishful thinking”), but which neglects the larger “community” and “practice” contexts that bring that same community together into a cohesive, interacting whole. We are, in fact, not assessing the value of a linear, manufacturing-style chain of events, but an interconnected network of people affected by each other.