In the first chapter of our new 3-part series, we explored what Social Value means for companies operating in the built environment and why it’s becoming increasingly important for the industry today. In this second chapter, we’re taking a look at the practical ways companies can add Social Value to the communities they work in, including some real-life examples and how progress can be effectively measured along the way.
Whilst we recognise that one size never fits all and we’re not aiming to provide definitive answers, by stimulating dialogue and sharing good practise, we hope to create a more balanced and inclusive industry that better reflects and benefits all stakeholders.
What is Social Value?
The creation of Social Value is the conscious effort on the part of a business or organisation to deliver outcomes that benefit local communities and/ or society – whether that be through social, economic or environmental means. Social Value represents all the things that matter to communities, but that are not commonly expressed or measured in the same way that financial value is. For example, it can be added through the creation of jobs and economic growth; by supporting community health and wellbeing; by improving the local environment; or by strengthening community cohesion.
For contractors, improving the community in the places they work is no longer just a public relations or reputational exercise, it’s of increasingly significant commercial importance too: Social Value now commonly appears as a standalone set of criteria on bids and tenders, demonstrating its serious impact on the bottom line and the growing awareness both inside and outside the industry that people and communities are fundamental to the success of businesses.
How do companies add Social Value to communities?
Once firms understand the importance of creating Social value, how can they practically ensure that their projects align with the communities they exist within? Setting up a Social Value impact framework is one obvious place to start, but remember that what works in one location or community may not in another, so it’s always good to do your homework, create opportunities to listen to different local stakeholders and ensure that frameworks are locally relevant before laying down any targets or metrics.
You can also kick off your Social Value strategy by looking internally first: taking the time to discover what’s important to your staff and what they would like to see being delivered, before matching this to the needs and wants of local communities. As the front line of your business, your team may have a better handle on what matters most to local people; consulting them first may not only help to boost internal morale, but will enhance buy-in and ownership of any Social Value initiatives you decide to implement. Another way to stimulate important conversations about the Social Value you’re creating with your own staff is to consider whether you are a responsible employer and operating in ways you are proud of.
Externally, companies can conduct community engagement surveys, offer focus groups and run in-person or online consultations to discover what really matters to local people. Community engagement apps like SitePodium can support effective two-way communication with a local community, allowing multi-media information such as text, photos and videos to be quickly and easily shared in real time. Once a community’s wants and needs have been understood, relevant programmes can then be developed around health and wellbeing; environmental impact; employment, training and skills, etc.
The supply chain is another place where companies can enhance Social Value: ask suppliers to demonstrate how they align with your social and environmental policies – there may well be synergies that can be established and drawn out.
How can companies measure their social impact?
Without clear guidelines and definitions, and little in the way of accountability through globally-agreed targets and reporting requirements, it’s understandable that some organisations think ‘Why should I bother with Social Value? It’s hard to do, it’s difficult to measure, and no one will check on it anyway…”
But it doesn’t have to be complex or painful, and a little bit of data really can make a big difference. Firms can start by simply gathering some baseline stats to gain a picture of a community and critically understand if what they are doing is working.
Take care to ensure your data points are the right size: the aim is not to collect masses of information for the sake of it, but to identify specific themes and targets that will create genuine impact. Companies can then develop scores to rate their social impact aims and if, over time, these scores aren’t improving, it gives you a basis to look at what’s not working and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Some baseline metrics for a Social Value framework could include:
- Number of local people employed
- Percentage of people paid the minimum or London living wage
- Number of community groups engaged with
- Kilowatts or units of energy used in a project
- Reduction in air pollution
- Increase in biodiversity
And let’s not forget about qualitative data: over time, investment in community schemes can generate powerful social impact stories and people-centred narratives to supplement your data and really bring it to life – something that’s often welcomed by planners, particularly local authorities.
What guidance or frameworks for Social Value exist already?
Since there are currently no existing frameworks or overarching scoring metrics to define what social impact is, firms must decide for themselves what Social Value means to them and the communities they work in. Having said that, the following resources may be helpful:
- The Guide to SROI (Social Return on Investment): originally written in 2009 by the UK Cabinet Office and updated in 2012, The Guide to SROI provides a clear framework for anyone interested in measuring, managing and accounting for Social Value or social impact – though it is not specific to the companies in the built environment.
- Annex A of the government’s 2020 Policy Procurement Note suggests five themes for the effective delivery of Social Value. These are COVID-19 recovery, tackling economic inequality, fighting climate change, equal opportunity and wellbeing. The guidance includes delivery objectives and what good practise looks like within these five different areas.
- Aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goals – an internationally-agreed set of targets for a globally sustainable future – is another way that firms could report and measure on their social impact. In particular, Goal 11 – ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ – offers a wealth of targets and indicators to help you get started.
Which companies are leading the way?
Elephant Park is a new residential development in London’s Elephant & Castle which aims to create one of the capital’s most exciting places to live, work and visit. Delivered by Lendlease in partnership with Southwark Council, the district aspires to be Climate Positive and centres around a large communal park with over 11 acres of additional green spaces such as pocket parks, gardens and green roofs. New homes are energy efficient, using 30% less water than the average London home. In addition to creating 6,000 new jobs, planting 1,200 new trees and establishing over 3,000 new cycle spaces, the scheme aims to add Social Value through opportunities for employment, education and training, providing new community spaces and a local community fund.
Dolphin Square is a large residential estate in London’s Westminster, owned and managed by AXA IM Alts. 2020 marked the beginning of a major Restoration Programme to preserve and modernise this classic estate, which was built over 80 years ago and is currently home to approximately 1,500 residents. As Dolphin Square’s 13 houses are restored over the next 7 years, an extensive programme has been developed to consult, engage and add value to residents and the local community. Activity to date includes a dedicated restoration programme website; a bespoke community engagement app; an in-person community engagement suite offering staff, residents and local stakeholders the opportunity to attend in-person consultations and events; and free leisure classes including yoga, tai chi and a running club to enhance social interaction and cohesion around the estate.
We hope this blog has helped shed light on what can be a complex topic. In part 3 of this series, we’ll be looking at some key considerations in the successful delivery of Social Value, such as the importance of senior buy-in and the availability of dedicated time and resource.
If you have any comments or questions, or would like to learn more about how SitePodium can support your own approach to creating Social Value, send us a message