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  • Anna McChesney-Gordon
  • 10 minutes
  • 04/10/2023

Our Consultancy Director answers 9 of your top Social Value strategy questions

Social Value Portal's Director of Consultancy, Anna McChesney-Gordon, answers some of the top questions we have received from audience members in our latest webinar.

In Social Value Portal’s latest masterclass, my colleague Ed Lang and I deep dived into our Social Value Success Factors ModelIt was a lively webinar, attended by around 600 passionate and knowledgeable Social Value stakeholders and experts. In fact, the given hour wasn’t nearly long enough to address the many fascinating questions we received from our attendees about Social Value strategy and delivery.   

That’s why I will be providing answers to some of the most pertinent and interesting inquiries we received. Keep reading for my thoughts on these excellent questions.  

1. How can SMEs compete with larger organisations when it comes to Social Value? 

It’s often assumed that small and medium businesses are at an inherent disadvantage in Social Value delivery, due to their more limited resources. But there are certainly ways for SMEs to close that gap. These include: 

Using your connections to the community. SMEs often have better knowledge of local needs, organisations, and community hubs. Target these in your Social Value strategy.  

Optimising the qualitative elements of bids. The qualitative elements of a Social Value response go beyond the what, delving into the how and why of your Social Value commitments. For instance, don’t just say that you will hire five apprentices and take one into full time employment – detail the groups and areas they will come from, the partners you will work with, and why you have made these decisions. This is an opportunity to tell a powerful Social Value story – also, quantitative targets are marked down by evaluators if they are not backed up a robust supporting narrative. 

Prioritising specificity and targeting. One impactful approach SMEs can take is to leverage their specialisms. An SME might be able to provide more innovative and specialist Social Value initiatives for bids than larger multi-disciplinary companies can. How can your core offering, skills, and expertise support the local community?

It’s also important to remember that targets set out in bids should always be proportionate to the contract requirements and value. The commitments need to be reasonable and balanced, whether they are made by large or small organisations. For example, a large organisation can’t promise 1,000 new jobs for a contract where it is only reasonable to employ up to 50 people.  

2. How should you approach additionality when Social Value is core to your proposition? 

Additionality refers to the requirement that reported Social Value be ‘additional’ to the core activities of your organisation, or to the standards of the industry in question.  

If Social Value is already core to your organisation’s proposition, look for ways to go beyond the contract or the tender in question, while targeting areas you have the resources to deliver.  

Take the example of an organisation whose main activity is combatting homelessness by building homeless shelters – if the contract requires the building of a homeless shelter, this wouldn’t be counted as additional Social Value. However, if they established a co-located meal centre, this would count as additionality.  

It’s also worth remembering that if Social Value is core to your value proposition, you will have the opportunity to collaborate with other organisations – including VCSEs – with different propositions from you. Be sure to position yourself to capitalise on these possibilities.  

3. How should organisations operating nationally, or online, report local Social Value? 

The Social Value TOM System framework is currently designed to measure Social Value delivered within the UK. When it is used within a procurement setting, the TOM System helps the buyer to share Social Value priorities; bidders can meanwhile use the framework to create an appropriate Social Value action plan. This is the case whether the contract is being delivered directly in a community or it is national or online, and it is the responsibility of the buyer to ensure the Social Value requirements are reasonable for the contract type, length and value.  

There are various Social Value initiatives which can be delivered virtually – we saw this in action particularly during the pandemic. Examples include remote mentoring, school workshops, and pro bono business advice sessions. In fact, the lack of travel entailed in these initiatives often makes them more practical than their in-person equivalents. 

Telecommunications organisations, for instance, have a largely digital offering, yet often still drive considerable impact. Many of these Social Value initiatives revolve around key areas like online volunteering support, cyber security, and digital upskilling.  

Ultimately, if your embedment in local communities is limited, the key thing is to focus on creating a robust and diverse overall Social Value offering – this can more than offset a limited local footprint. And bear in mind that if you’re responding to a tender, the other bidding organisations are in the same boat.  

4. What are the key elements of a winning Social Value bid?  

In our Win more Bids Toolkit, we discuss all the essential components of winning a Social Value bid. It contains some of the top tips that we share with organisations when supporting them with our strategic bid support offer, including our ‘six steps to pro’ list:

Social Value 'six steps to pro'
Six steps to pro for bidders

5. What types of Social Value delivery score best? 

There is a wide range of Social Value activities that have the potential to achieve high scores – whatever your area of focus, you can have a strong measurable impact, provided your reporting is robust.  

The activities which we typically see deliver the most reported Social Value often have the following in common: 

Specificity: Consider pursuing targeted and time-bound initiatives related to your organisation’s core activities, rather than more general ones. For example, if you are a consultancy, you might be able to give expert advice to VCSEs. Also, focus on how you can respond to local needs and priorities, where relevant to the tender. 

Detail: When you report your Social Value activities, it is important to offer a detailed account of your actions with evidence to support the data you are providing. Be careful to also use the right units of measurement for your quantitative data. This approach will help boost your Social Value scores. 

Attribution: When you report Social Value activities, the activities should be attributable to you and not your supply chain or another organisation.  

6. How do you ensure Social Value is embedded within business planning? 

Embedding Social Value in your business planning and governance should be a priority for your leadership team. For maximal impact, consider establishing Social Value as a recurring board agenda item and incorporating it into future budgeting.   

There are many ways to ensure that Social Value is being prioritised at all levels and functions, however. Here are a few routes that our members have gone down: 

  • Restructuring their Social Value process internally, with different roles accountable for different regions and an organisation-wide commitment to logging data on our platform.  
  • Creating a network to capture Social Value data, feeding it toward a dedicated individual or function responsible for correctly formatting and logging it.  
  • Getting the head of procurement significantly involved in Social Value, ensuring the whole function prioritises it.  
  • Hiring a sustainable procurement manager to ensure that Social Value never falls through the cracks when procurement managers are strained for resource. 
  • Taking a full 360 perspective, considering not only your own Social Value but also that of the projects you deliver and your own supply chain. 

7. If you already have a volunteering policy in place, is that not counted as ‘above and beyond’? 

Within the Social Value TOM System, volunteering activities that help the community will deliver measurable Social Value. Volunteering policies will help to facilitate this, as well as make the Social Value delivered attributable to the organisation (as it is paid volunteering time). If it is already in place, you may already be creating Social Value without measuring and quantifying it.  

Regarding specific contracts, companies can record all relevant volunteering time as part of the business delivery. They can also capture a volunteering event specific to the project – for instance, a company might specify in the contract that if they win the bid, they will host a charity football event.  

However, time off in lieu for volunteering or paid volunteering time offered to employees as part of internal company policy cannot be attached to a specific project, as this would not be ‘additional’ Social Value. 

8. What advice can you give on ensuring we hit commitments in tenders? 

Delivering on the Social Value you have committed to will require determination and organisation. Here are some top tips that may help you: 

  • Make realistic commitments aligned to your organisation’s capabilities.   
  • Engage with your contract manager to make expectations clear and establish a communication plan. 
  • Set aside time for Social Value – it might be that you log in and check your performance against targets every Friday morning, for instance. 
  • Identify data owners early and ensure responsibilities for data collection and entry are agreed. 
  • Meet up with your contract manager every month to report on progress. 
  • Get creative! For example, when working with Solihull Council, Ebsford Environmental hosted an internal competition between project teams to see who could deliver the most Social Value. 

9. Why do suppliers need to pay fees to Social Value Portal? 

Where Social Value Portal manages the evaluation process on behalf of a public sector buyer, the successful bidder becomes contracted directly with Social Value Portal. The data and evidence added to the platform throughout the lifetime of the contract is verified by Social Value Portal to ensure the requirements of the procuring authority are met.

Suppliers are also able to access quarterly reporting on projects, showing progress against targets and helping to manage Social Value delivery. At the end of the contract, suppliers receive a verified, end of project summary report, and a case study. The fee also reflects the time and resource required to develop and continually refine the TOM System and its proxy values, which enable standardised third-party validation.

Ready to take your Social Value to the next level? 

It’s been great to see huge and growing interest in Social Value, both in our webinar and in the increasing number of conversations myself and my team are having with industry leaders.  

As our Social Value Success Factors report indicates, some 82% of our respondents expect to spend more time supporting Social Value over the coming three years. Having a well-considered and properly integrated Social Value strategy will be a key differentiator moving forward.  

That’s why now is the time to build a culture, structure, and knowledge base which will facilitate the creation of measurable, meaningful good.   

To get started, I’d encourage you to explore our Social Value Success Factors Toolkit 

And, if you are ready to start your journey, book a free discovery session with our experts, so we can start finding your key Social Value success factors.  

Anna McChesney-Gordon, Director of Consultancy at Social Value Portal

Anna McChesney-Gordon

Director of Consultancy

Anna leads Social Value Portal’s Consultancy team, which works with a range of clients in all sectors throughout different stages of their Social Value journeys.