Social Impact Calculator

A visual, holistic approach to cost-benefit analysis that examines the full social return of investments and policies.

Version 2.0 [October 2020]



When it comes to looking at the holistic impact of an investment on the things we care about- quality of life, equity, the environment- traditional CBAs are woefully inadequate. The Social Impact Calculator is a visual tool that shows investment and return from both the government and public perspectives in a comprehensive way that aligns values and outcomes. The purpose is both to help decision-makers make smart long-term choices and to help communicate the reasoning behind such choices to residents. [1]

[1] Cityfi (2019). "Quantifying Social Costs and Benefits to Guide Individual Action". Medium.


Why use it?

The Social Benefit Calculator:

  • Makes the invisible visible - The focus on naming and broadly estimating all significant social costs and benefits keep the decision-making process rooted in reality and attentive to typically overlooked and difficult to measure factors 
  • Has a flexible, open-source framework that allows staff and community members to make adjustments over time to take new information into account, as well as apply the framework to different policies and investments
  • Uses a long-term time horizon (30 years for infrastructure, 10 years for add-on investments) to help guide smart decisions 
  • Maximizes community engagement and informed discussion through a simple, visual interface


Who is it for?

Policymakers, companies


How long does it take?

While the framework serves as a template, it takes time to fill in the specific impacts and estimated values that relate to your particular project. We recommend using round numbers for estimates in order to convey the large margin of error and communicate most simply to community members. We also recommend embracing subjective forecasts or adjustments to research from people with expertise within your organization. Logic and common sense are often more accurate than using "objective" proxy data. Still, you will need to gather those experts and other key stakeholders to decide on assumptions, talk through the range of impact values (we've used 0-30 to reflect 1 full return for each year of assumed lifespan), and finalize the numbers and visual. Plan for 3-6 months. 


How many people is it for?



What materials do you need?

The Social Impact Calculator is built in Tableau and uses Google Sheets as its database. Note that Tableau licenses may be provided to non-profits at no cost.


What does the facilitator need to know or be able to do? 

It takes courage to put up numbers that include subjectivity. However, it is necessary if we are to include the meaningful impacts that are difficult to measure, and expert subjectivity is often more trustworthy than statistics taken from objective research (e.g. willingness-to-pay surveys). The facilitator needs to be able to communicate that the visual is meant to be a basis for discussion and evolve over time. 

Expertise in Tableau or other data visualization and software is also helpful to make the tool as user friendly in its final form as possible. 



Cityfi, Miami-Dade County Department of Public Works








    To Know a little bit about doughnut principles

    Francesco Pagliari

    Milan Italy

    I’m looking for methodology to apply in startup design compliant to sustainability goals

    Rob Ward 10 months ago

    Hi Chelsea, is there any chance you could convert this to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet so I am able to access it please? Google docs is not allowed by our IT security/privacy policies.

    0 0
    Olivier Rieu over 3 years ago

    Hi Chelsea, Would be interested to have a view on your tool - can you share more details. Kind regards

    0 0
    Dinah Ward over 3 years ago

    This looks useful but I can't work out how to open it. I've 'put it in my toolbox' but don't know how to access it and can't find information about this on the website.

    0 1
    Olivia Bush over 3 years ago

    I have the same problem!

    0 1
    Chelsea Lawson over 2 years ago

    Hello! I never knew I was receiving comments on here :) Here is what the framework looks like in google sheets, which is what powers the Tableau visualizations. The methodology document in the first link above has more details, and if you'd like the Tableau workbook feel free to reach out and I can send, or you can use any other visualization tool.

    0 0

    Join the DEAL Community!

    Get inspired, connect with others and become part of the movement. No matter how big or small your contribution is, you’re welcome to join!