Accounting for impact: How impact investors understand social impact measurement

DPhil (PhD) candidate (part-time), Department of Continuing Education, Kellogg College, University of Oxford


Professor Alex Nicholls – Professor of Social Entrepreneurship, Said School of Business; and Academic Director – Oxford Impact Measurement, Impact Investing, and Social Finance Programmes.

Professor Jonathan Michie – Professor of Innovation and Knowledge Exchange at the University of Oxford; Director of the Department for Continuing Education; and President of Kellogg College.


Investors are increasingly paying attention to societal considerations in how they allocate their capital. Impact investors, in particular, seek both financial and non-financial objectives, alongside measurable social impacts. Impact investors possess heterogeneous motivations and expectations that can influence their interpretations of social impact, as well as their expectations of what is to be measured and reported. However, there is significant variation in how social impact is understood, the approaches that investors use, and how the use impact data and evidence for decision making.


My thesis extends previous work on social accounting to examine impact investor perspectives on social impact measurement. Its focus will be on the perspectives of North American and European impact investors. It will study investor behaviours and explain the implications relevant to impact measurement through in-depth analyses of two influential asset owner segments: foundations and high net-worth investors.


This research intends to address a gap in the social accounting field by providing new insights and empirical data from the perspective of impact investors (as asset owners, users of non-financial information, and field influencers). It will also describe how investor expectations and behaviours influence social impact measurement practices and investment decisions, beyond simply describing the measurement challenges. It will also contribute new theories and evidence to the impact investing field that, despite its impressive growth, has many outstanding research gaps.


I will be using an inductive approach (grounded theory) and qualitative methods (semi-structured interviews), which are appropriate given its exploratory nature. I will use purposive sampling of foundation and HNWI impact investors, in order to obtain a range of different perspectives. This approach is informed by an approved ethical code of conduct to maintain respondent confidentiality and privacy.


Are you are a private, community, or corporate foundation engaged in impact investing, and exploring or doing impact measurement?

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Are you are a high net worth investor or family office engaged in impact investing, and exploring or doing impact measurement?

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Are you are an advisor to a foundation or HWNI/FO engaged in impact investing, and exploring or doing impact measurement?

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