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Measuring and Realising Return on Investment for Behaviour Change Programmes: A Rare Achievement for UK Local Authorities

Measuring and Realising Return on Investment for Behaviour Change Programmes: A Rare Achievement for UK Local Authorities

Buckinghamshire Council saved £4 for every £1 it spent on its health behaviour change programme, while Sheffield City Council’s sustainable travel rewards scheme delivered nearly 200% return on investment in carbon savings. Download the case studies here.

The concept of ‘return on investment’ (ROI) is often associated with financial markets or private sector enterprises. However, it is equally pertinent to the public sector, particularly when it comes to social programmes such as behaviour change interventions. Unfortunately, measuring and realising ROI from these initiatives can be a minefield for UK local authorities.

The challenges are multifaceted. Such programmes, by their nature, are designed to address complex and often deeply entrenched issues such as health inequalities, unemployment, and social exclusion.

While ROI for commercial ventures can usually be quantified in straightforward financial terms, the benefits of social programmes are diverse and can be much harder to measure. They include improved health outcomes, lower carbon emissions, and enhanced community cohesion – outcomes that do not always translate easily into pounds and pence.

The Challenge of Measurement

One of the primary hurdles is the difficulty in establishing robust metrics for success. Traditional methods of measuring ROI may not capture the full spectrum of benefits delivered by social programmes. A public health initiative aimed at reducing obesity, for example, may have long-term benefits such as lower healthcare costs and improved quality of life for participants.

However, these benefits accrue over many years and are influenced by numerous external factors, making them challenging to isolate and measure.

Moreover, social programmes often require a considerable initial financial investment, with the returns realised over an extended period. This disconnect between investment and return can make it difficult for local authorities to justify the expenditure, particularly in a climate of budget constraints and competing priorities.

Realising ROI

Despite these challenges, some UK local authorities have successfully navigated the complexities of measuring and realising ROI for social programmes. These successes are often underpinned by a few key factors:

Clear Objectives and Outcomes

Successful programmes are characterised by clear, well-defined objectives and outcomes. By setting specific, measurable goals from the outset, authorities can better track progress and assess the programme’s effectiveness. This clarity also helps in communicating the benefits to stakeholders and securing ongoing support.

High Visibility

Effective communication is crucial for local authority behaviour change interventions. It raises awareness, encourages participation, provides clarity, builds trust, reinforces behaviour, addresses barriers, measures impact, and fosters a supportive community.

Clear, engaging and ongoing messaging ensures the community understands, supports, and sustains new behaviours, and continues to engage in the programme.

Robust Data Collection and Analysis

Authorities that excel in this area invest in comprehensive data collection and analysis. By tracking a range of indicators – from health outcomes to infrastructure use – they can build a detailed picture of a programme’s impact.

For example, BetterPoints programmes work closely with local authorities to track physical activity, monitor achievements, effect behavioural change, and report impact. This data-driven approach enables local authorities to demonstrate tangible benefits and justify continued investment.

Cross-Sector Collaboration

Realising ROI often requires collaboration across different departments, sectors and agencies. By working together, health services, local government, universities, and community organisations can pool resources, share data, and coordinate efforts to maximise a programme’s impact.

Long-term Commitment

Social programmes need time to yield results. Authorities that commit to long-term investment and support are more likely to see a return on their investment. This requires a shift in mindset from short-term cost-cutting to long-term value creation.

BetterPoints: A Case in Point

At BetterPoints, we have witnessed first-hand the transformative impact of well-designed social programmes. Our work with local authorities has shown that it is possible to achieve significant returns on investment.

For instance, our programmes have helped reduce health inequalities, cut carbon emissions, and promote active and sustainable transport – all while delivering measurable savings.

One notable success is Buckinghamshire Council’s BetterPoints Bucks health behaviour change programme, which realised a £4 saving for every £1 spent.

Those people identified as ‘inactive’ when they joined the programme were averaging 194 weekly minutes of physical activity each by the end.

Another example is Sheffield, where collaboration between the council’s transport and public health teams, the hospital, and local businesses – coupled with a strong publicity campaign that included messages on digital roadside displays – ensured rapid take-up and high levels of engagement.

BetterPoints Sheffield hit its six-month target for sign-ups within eight weeks and subsequently overshot it by 60%.


With the right tools, data, and commitment, it is possible to demonstrate the value of these initiatives and secure the necessary investment for long-term success. By adopting a strategic, data-driven approach, UK local authorities can not only meet their social objectives but also deliver real, measurable benefits to their communities – and real value to the taxpayer.

At BetterPoints, we are committed to supporting local authorities in this journey, providing the expertise and technology needed to turn aspirations into tangible outcomes. Together, we can build a future where behaviour change programmes are not just a cost but a valuable investment in the well-being of our communities.

Download the Buckinghamshire and Sheffield case studies >>