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  • 7 minutes
  • 17/08/2023

Build your Social Value foundations: Expert tips on getting started

At the 2023 Social Value conference, a panel of experts answered the all-important question: Where do you start with Social Value?

Many of the 1,400 stakeholders we welcomed at the 2023 Social Value Conference had already achieved amazing things with their Social Value programmes.  But many others were beginners and had come to find out: ‘How do I get started in Social Value?’ 

In one of the event’s key sessions, ‘Building the Foundations: Social Value 101’, this question was addressed by a panel of experts: 

Read on for a breakdown of their key insights, along with tips to help you begin your Social Value journey.  

What is Social Value and how can you measure it? 

An important starting place in your Social Value journey is to make sure you understand the concept itself. Nikki Rowbottom explained that Social Value can be defined simply as your impact on the world around you: 

Social Value could be your reusable cup, your bag for life, the apprenticeships you support, the recycling you do – all of that is Social Value.

She also gave a quick history lesson on Social Value’s legislative background, including:  

  • The 2012 Public Services (Social Value) Act, which mandated ‘consideration’ of Social Value in public sector tenders 
  • Policy Procurement Note 06/20, which introduced mandatory minimum 10% weighting for Social Value in contracts 
  • The Procurement Bill, which will go one step further by embedding mandatory Social Value consideration in legislation 

So, the government’s Social Value Model has introduced a consistent standard that organisations must adhere to. However, Nikki pointed to the Social Value TOM System as a framework that plugs into the Social Value Model, while additionally giving users a way to quantify their Social Value:  

The Social Value TOM System is the same as the public sector model – it just takes it one step further. You’ve got a quantitative approach as well as the qualitative approach.

Learn more about Social Value with our in-depth analysis: What is Social Value?  

Social Value: A tool for change 

With so many potential avenues for getting started in Social Value, organisations have an opportunity to make a difference fast.  However, Sarah Lambshead stressed the need to educate your stakeholders on the business case for Social Value. She commented: 

Social Value is a strategic tool for change. What that change is can be up to you – not just you as an individual, but as an organisation.

This means that when you’re looking at integrating Social Value into your business strategy, be sure to think about what your organisation does well. Understanding what makes your organisation tick and its values will make your journey easier and more productive.

Sarah also echoed a sentiment that we heard repeatedly during the conference – the importance of transparency and honesty at the start of your journey. She commented:  

Nobody is expecting you to have a Social Value magic wand. Talk about it authentically and just get started.

Becoming a Social Value leader fast: How Waltham Forest made it happen 

As winner of the conference’s Social Innovation in Public Sector Projects Award, The London Borough of Waltham Forest exemplifies the speed with which dedicated organisations can make huge progress.  

Joanna Dahlgren provided an overview of the borough’s recent Social Value activity, which (among many other accomplishments) has included:  

  • Establishing a dedicated Social Value function 
  • Completing a Social Value maturity index exercise with Social Value Portal 
  • Bringing community benefits reporting together under a total return on investment framework  

The impact of this transformation is clearly visible in Waltham Forest’s reported Social Value. In 2019, Waltham Forest tracked only £42,000 worth of Social Value across its supply chain. However, the organisation measured £7.7 million the following year. And by the end of 2022, it had generated an incredible £29 million of Social Value.  

So, what enabled this success?  

Firstly, Waltham Forest has embedded Social Value across its operations, from procurement to design to contract execution. Waltham Forest’s CEO is also a champion of Social Value, feeding a culture of collaboration between commissioning, procurement, financial planning, and economic development.  

Secondly, Joanna credited close collaboration and early engagement with suppliers, which has generated bespoke, hyperlocal initiatives focused on real community needs. This means the programme is improving real lives behind the numbers. Joanna said: 

Yes, it’s great to deliver £29 million worth of Social Value. But what’s important is the impact on the local community, for the environment, and for our residents.  

Social Value Conference 2023

Every year, the annual Social Value Conference brings together hundreds of thought leaders and stakeholders to discuss key challenges and opportunities.

Why Social Value matters to your whole organisation 

Social Value isn’t just a priority for procurement and contract management teams – it has big implications for various functions across an organisation. All of these teams can help you in the early stages of your Social Value journey.  

Sol Tannir discussed the critical importance of gaining buy-in across an organisation:  

Think about your HR team, your finance team, all the teams with data that can help you measure Social Value – it’s important that you’re bringing them with you on this journey.

Of course, doing this means getting buy-in. But it also means helping other teams to understand the important role that they play as evidence holders. With that alignment in place, you will be better placed to share the overall responsibility for Social Value.

As well as this, there may be other internal stakeholders to whom Social Value information is valuable. Sales and marketing, for instance, can leverage this data to enhance your organisation’s proposition. Being in touch with these key stakeholders will also help you to understand your biggest areas of opportunity. You can then leverage this information when working with a framework like the TOM System, which provides numerous areas in which to start demonstrating Social Value. Sol said:  

The TOM System allows you to think about specific outcomes and measures and how you can deliver against them. This then enables you to act on the basis of your existing strengths, what you can deliver, and how you will quantify your Social Value.

Sol also shared some valuable pieces of advice on getting started with Social Value – one being the need for a feedback loop to refine your Social Value activities. This is important for everyone: buyers should be giving guidance to bidders and suppliers, while suppliers should be feeding back to their clients to let them know what is working well and where they are having challenges.  

As Sol noted, the work you do on to improve your Social Value will go a long way to materially benefiting people, place, and planet: 

While there are challenges and things can get hard, it’s important to remember you are making real impact in people’s lives. Keep that in mind, and it will help to smooth over some of the bumps in the road.

Ready to start your Social Value journey? 

Social Value might seem like a complex topic, and it’s common to be uncertain of where to start. That’s why our Social Value 101 Toolkit provides you with an comprehensive overview to help you start measuring and managing your delivery: Social Value 101 Toolkit.