“It is not enough just to incentivise social investments. We need a robust way of measuring their value...” Thus spoke Prime Minister Cameron at the start of the G8 Social Impact Investment Forum in July, 2013. In this paper I investigate the elite narratives and practices of measuring social value in the rapidly expanding arena of social impact investment. Assumptions about the neutrality and transparency of metrics, translated through popular terms such as ‘best practices’ and ‘evidence-based policy,’ give legitimacy to new forms of governance, such as are manifested in contemporary instruments of social finance now emerging in Europe. Many of these terms and practices are derived from influential philanthropic actors such as the US-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; they are further disseminated globally by celebrity humanitarians like Bono, who connects policy-makers, financiers, and philanthropists in a rapidly widening network of social impact investment stakeholders. These now global webs of belief about efficiency and modern forms of measurement in philanthropic practices are mobilized by political elites in Europe, who draw on the scientific rationalities of expertise to nudge governments towards market oriented solutions to contemporary social problems.
Keywords: genealogy, governance, humanitarianism, Europe, metrics, value