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Social Return on Investment - Research Approach

This study uses a Social Return on Investment (SROI) framework to measure the social impact of sport and active recreation in Wales in 2021/22. 

SROI is a framework for understanding and measuring the non-market economic, social and environmental value created by an activity, organisation or intervention.  It is increasingly being used across the sport sector, especially by public agencies and charities, to measure social value and to advocate for investment.  

SROI measures the value of outcomes generated through sports participation and volunteering and the net costs, or inputs, of providing opportunities for engagement. The SROI analysis expresses the monetary value of outcomes in relation to the inputs. For example, for every £1 of investment in Wales, a value of £y is generated.  The study explicitly excludes watching sports events as this is outside the remit of Sport Wales.

The SROI is evaluative, which means that it measures activity which has already taken place. Data for the analysis was collected through a mix of methods, including stakeholder interviews, analysis of previous population-level SROI studies, and secondary data collection. The figure below outlines the six stages of the SROI analysis.

The study focused on the value of sport for adults 16 years and over.  

Figure 2.1.  Stages of an SROI

The six stages of an SROI analysis

After establishing the scope of the study, the first stage of an SROI is to identify stakeholders. Social Value International define stakeholders as ‘people or organisations that experience change as a result of your activity, or those who affect the activity under analysis. They can be individuals, groups of individuals and organisations’.  Table 3.1 identifies the major groups of stakeholders for sport in Wales.  

Table 3.1: Stakeholders for sport in Wales

Public SectorPrivate SectorThird SectorHouseholds

Sport Wales

Welsh Government

Local Authorities

UK Sport

Public Health Wales


Higher Education Institutions

Commercial fitness and exercise providers

Employers with sport, exercise and physical activity facilities






Voluntary sports clubs 

Sport and Leisure Trusts

National Governing Bodies

Charities delivering sports activities

Sport for development organisations

Sports participants

Sports volunteers






Stakeholders were involved in the SROI in several ways.  They helped to define the scope of the study and identify the inputs and the outcomes to be measured. The information they provided helped to develop the Impact Map, which is presented in the next chapter.  They also contributed to verifying the research process and findings.

Stakeholder interviews

In consultation with Sport Wales, the research team identified a list of key stakeholders to consult with. The following organisations were interviewed by the research team: 

  1. Sport Wales
  2. Public Health Wales 
  3. Football Association of Wales
  4. Welsh Government (Sport Policy department)
  5. StreetGames
  6. The Outdoor Partnership 

Each interview asked questions around the perceptions of the impacts of participating and volunteering in sport and physical activity, including both positive changes and negative or unintended changes. Interviewees were also asked to rank the importance of these outcomes for the SROI. 

Physical and mental health

The major benefit identified in the interviews was positive health outcomes of sport and physical activity participation, including both the prevention of ill health and the treatment of ill health, in particular treating, managing or delaying the symptoms of particular health conditions. Specific health conditions mentioned included diabetes, obesity and chronic disease, and mental health conditions included stress, anxiety and depression. Also mentioned were delaying the symptoms of ageing and maintenance of good health in older people. Both physical and mental health were generally regarded as being well-documented and evidenced outcomes of sport and physical activity. 

Social cohesion

Secondly, the social benefits of sport and physical activity were identified as an important outcome. This included through both participation and volunteering enabling people to meet others, feel a sense of belonging with a group, and develop feelings of community. The interviews highlighted that these feelings of belonging and cohesion could be developed through being part of a team, as well as through participating with friends and / or family, strengthening family ties if participating together. Developing feelings of community as part of a local club or team also developed feelings of both trust and pride in the local community and impacted on feelings of responsibility to the local area – having potential for reducing anti-social behaviour such as reducing littering and graffiti in the local area. 


The interviews also highlighted subjective wellbeing outcomes as being an important benefit of sport and physical activity. This was linked with the social outcomes, as developing feelings of belonging and community contributed to positive feelings about oneself, feeling happier, developing confidence, improved social skills, self-esteem, self-efficacy, self-belief, feeling worthwhile, and feeling cared about (for example by sports leaders, coaches, teammates). 

Other outcomes

Further outcomes were also highlighted including improved skills such as leadership and communication skills, having potential for increased educational attainment and productivity at work or in volunteering roles, and as a result potentially having positive financial impacts for workplaces. Also, a reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour through getting young people off the streets and giving them a purpose. These outcomes however were described as anecdotal and may therefore be difficult to attribute solely to sport and physical activity. 

Negative and unintended outcomes

There was one interviewee who described no negative outcomes as resulting from sport and physical activity participation. Others, however, described some potential negative outcomes. The most frequently mentioned of these was the potential for some negative mental health or wellbeing impacts on individuals, due to pressures to perform or succeed causing anxiety and stress, and both the fear of failure and the reality of failure impacting negatively upon confidence and self-efficacy. Encountering sexism and racism in sport were also mentioned as negative factors which could impact upon feelings of wellbeing. Wellbeing could also be affected by the pressures on both individuals and their families for finances to afford the cost of participation in sport, as well as the pressure on time. Anti-social behaviour was also described as a potential negative outcome, and this was mentioned in particular in relation to football hooliganism. Finally, the risk of injury was highlighted. 

Other evidence relating to social outcomes of sport in Wales

During interviews, the stakeholders were asked to provide examples of any relevant evidence showing the value of sport and physical activity specific to Wales. The material provided included a qualitative evaluation of the ‘Step into sport’ programme (Brier et al., 2023), a sport based intervention for ‘at risk’ young people, which found that there were positive impacts for participants, who benefitted psychologically (for example, more positive: self-concept; self-esteem, anger management; mental health and wellbeing); physically (such as learning new physical skills; improved sleep and nutrition behaviours; increased physical fitness); and socially (for example, new relationships and social connections; developing role models); and finally participants were more aspirational about future prospects in terms of both continuation of sport and increasing motivation for work-placed opportunities.  Similarly, an evaluation of a rugby-based intervention (Brier and Mellick et al., 2023) found the same psychological, physical, social and aspirational outcomes for young people and quantitative analysis further revealed that across three psychometric measures (WEMWBS, PHQ-9, GAD-7), participants experienced an increase in mental wellbeing, decrease in depressive symptoms and a decrease in anxiety symptoms. 

Perceptions of the benefits of football participation were highlighted by research undertaken on behalf of the Football Association of Wales (The Nielson Company, 2022) which asked parents what the benefits of football were for their child. The findings showed that parents believed that football improved general health and wellbeing (71%), provided social skills (64%), and improved mental skills (self-control, concentration, discipline, decision making and leadership). It should be noted that this was based solely on the perceptions of 138 parents of children aged between 6 and 17 who play football. 

The Outdoor Partnership Strategy (2021-2031) presents a vision of ‘enhancing people’s lives through outdoor activity’. This includes enhancing people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, and economic return (including employment) through outdoor activity such as grassroots participation in activities such as walking, cycling and adventure sports. As an organisation, The Outdoor Partnership has key areas of work that all lead to their overall vision. Research to evaluate these schemes of work includes an estimation of the SROI of the Opening Doors to the Outdoors (ODO) programme in North Wales (Makanjuola et al., 2023). The ODO is a 12-week walking and climbing intervention aimed at inactive individuals who experience low mental wellbeing. The SROI of the ODO programme in North Wales was conducted in 2022 by the Social Value Hub at the Centre for Health Economics and Medicines Evaluation (CHEME) at Bangor University. The results showed that, in the North Wales study, for every £1 invested in ODO programmes, £4.90 to £5.36 of social value was generated for stakeholders. In addition, interviews indicated improved mental wellbeing, increased physical activity, more social trust and better overall health.

A subsequent evaluation (Social Value Cymru, 2023) looked at the social value created through developing the various programmes in Mid and South Wales, building on the learning from the ODO intervention in North Wales and utilising a social prescribing framework. This study explored the impacts for both participants and volunteers and found that social value is created through the project’s activities, with a SROI result that for each £1 invested, £7.12 of value is created. Volunteers felt more confident leading and supporting groups and having access to training helped many to feel more positive towards a career in the industry. Through the various projects, individuals had experienced positive changes in their mental and physical wellbeing. For the social prescribing projects, many felt less isolated within their communities and felt more positive about managing their own health and wellbeing.

The main report which measures the value of sport in Wales was the previous SROI study which measured the value of the sport sector in 2016/17.  It measured several outcome areas including health, subjective wellbeing, social capital, crime, education and volunteer labour.  It revealed that £3.43bn of social value was generated from £1.19bn of inputs, giving an SROI value of 2.88. This means that for every £1 invested in sport in Wales (financial and non-financial), £2.88 worth of social impact was created for individuals and society in 2016/17. The largest amount of social value (61%) was generated through subjective well-being (£2.08bn).  Considerable social value was also created by social capital (£651m; 19%), health (£295m; 8.6%) and volunteer labour (£312m; 9%) (Sport Wales, 2018).