The quest for innovation lies at the heart of European rural development policy and is integral to the Europe 2020 strategy. While social innovation has become a cornerstone of increased competitiveness and the rural situation legitimizes public intervention to encourage innovation, the challenges of its effective evaluation are compounded by the higher ‘failure’ rate implied by many traditional performance measures. Social Return on Investment (SROI) is employed to assess the social innovation outcomes arising from implementation of Axes 1 and 3 of the 2007-13 Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE). Analysis of primary data gathered through structured face-to-face interviews from a weighted sample of 196 beneficiaries reveal that social innovation outcomes generate a total of £170.02 million of benefits from Axis 1 support measures, compared to £238.1 million of benefits generated from innovation outcomes from Axis 3 measures. Benefits are generated through four social innovation outcome categories: individual, operational, relational, and system; and range from changes in attitudes and behaviour to institutional change and new ways of structuring social relations. The paper calls for more comprehensive evaluation approaches that can capture, and value, the multiple benefits arising from social innovation, and further bespoke applications of SROI to help develop and legitimise innovation indicators that will enable stronger linkages back into the policy process.
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