What is ‘Social Value’ and how can we measure it?

Greengage are currently working with around half a dozen different clients in helping them to answer this question. The short answer is, social value can be defined in many different ways depending upon the local context, type of development or operations being proposed and the way that society will interact with it.

In 2012, The Social Value Act (for guidance click here) required public sector organisations to think about the social value that can be generated through buying services, and over time, goods. This has helped to shape the way that procurement decisions are made, however there are limitations to how the Act’s intentions have been applied to the planning and construction of communities. This represents a major opportunity to unlock the value that developers can bring, which far outweighs that brought through procurement of services alone.

Firstly, it is important to consider that local context point. Every different authority in the UK has a different understanding of social priorities within their jurisdiction and therefore place varying degrees of value upon what they want developers to bring to their communities. At the recent National Social Value Conference in Birmingham, there was a very strong presence from regional authorities of major cities in the north of England. This reflects an apparent desire to increase the prominence of social value in the way that development is brought forward, whereas currently there is a focus on the pure financial benefit of development when there may be hidden social costs.

At a time of increasingly constrained resources it is often the case that planning authorities don’t know what they can ask developers to deliver when it comes to social value. At the least, we are seeing a wide range in what is being accepted as demonstrating value. With this fact in mind, after the 2017 Sustainable Cities Leadership Summit, UKGBC and Core Cities agreed to collaborate on social value by taking forward a piece of work:

…on measuring the social value generated by high quality development, which encourages a consistent approach between policy-makers and developers and could help incentivise sustainable place-making by supporting the business case. This would explicitly build on existing work, rather than reinvent the wheel.

Greengage are proud to be part of this work and are currently participating in a series of working groups, identifying best practice and distilling the information into useful guidance for local authorities and developers to apply in future. The group will explore how industry can improve and best demonstrate the social value that they are offering the communities in which they build.

Once social value has been defined in terms of a key themes, it is then necessary to identify how one can measure performance and set aspirations for achievement. Because there are no universally accepted metrics or methods, it is of key importance for developers (for accountability and credibility) and policy makers (to understand the wider impact on communities) to demonstrate ‘additionality’ of their actions. I.e. what is the benefit brought about once you consider what would have happened in the absence of that development.

Demonstrating additionality in a quantitative manner is central to any social value proposition and something we have been working hard on across a range of issues. On the 16th and 17th of October Greengage attended the Healthy City Design 2017 International Congress at the Royal College of Physicians, London, where we presented a poster on ‘Quantification of health benefits through urban masterplanning design of public realm’.