Speak to an expert social value advisor now: +44 (0) 203 747 6555

  • 5 minutes
  • 16/12/2021

The growing prominence of social value

Social Value Portal CEO Guy Battle writes about the the growing prominence of social value and asks us what does social value action look like?

Making sense of social value 

With COP26 and net zero at the front of everyone’s minds, it’s a good time to restate the opportunity that climate action provides for social value creation. The two things are, after all, inextricably linked – so it makes sense for organisations to take a holistic view of their economic, social and environmental impacts. Taking a social value approach can also provide a brilliant way to get internal teams engaged with climate action, by crystallising the direct effects of an organisation’s efforts on the communities they live and work in. 

Shifting the focus from global to local 

The way in which climate and community issues interact is very well demonstrated by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The overarching aim of the SDGs is to create, ‘peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’. With this same aim at its core, social value measurement empowers organisations to take meaningful action. They contribute to global goals by assuming responsibility for enhancing the wellbeing and resilience of the individuals and communities they interact with.  

The growing prominence of social value

For public sector organisations, the obligation to consider social value began a decade ago when the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 was introduced. The Act has reshaped public procurement, making it necessary for those commissioning services to question how their choices can secure broader benefits for their area and stakeholders. This helped to normalise social value as an aspect of commercial activity and created a new level of consciousness across public sector supply chains. However, it’s only more recently that business functions outside of procurement have started to sit up and take notice of social value. 

The growing prominence of social value in both public and private sector organisations is being driven by savvy citizens who expect more from businesses they interact with. There is also a demand for transparency from stakeholders, and by investors who recognise that sustainability reduces investment risk. And from a reputational perspective, taking social value seriously can be invaluable, exponentially increasing customer loyalty and brand trust. Even a willingness to forgive organisations in the case of a misstep.1 It’s an opportunity worth maximising on; one that aligns business success with societal gain, so that everyone experiences the benefit. 

What does social value action look like? 

Topical following COP26, environmental impact will usually be a significant consideration; although social value can be created through a broad range of activities and will look different for every organisation. The most important thing to remember is that social value creation is where strategic business objectives should align with community needs. Keeping both in mind will enable you to create an actionable plan and maximise the value of your actions.  

For commercial property development experts Landsec, getting social value right meant focusing on increasing sustainability in four areas: employment, volunteering, charity, and education. Through a bespoke social value programme, Landsec was able to unlock £3.2m of social value in year one. In 2019/20 this increased to £4.8 million. Of the value created, £2.6 million has gone to supporting people facing barriers to work and £1.82 million to charity partners. Landsec’s people and partners have contributed 8,527 volunteer hours, and 298 students have been engaged in formal programmes. Landsec’s aim is to deliver £25million of social value by 2025. Their ongoing approach will undoubtedly be shaped by emerging net zero policies, such as the Future Homes Standard, as well as changing local and organisational needs. 

For regional sign makers Nuneaton Signs, social value creation required a slightly different approach. Already a not-for-profit organisation providing meaningful employment for people with disabilities, the team knew they were creating social value but had no way to quantify it. Their customers loved their ethos but wanted to understand where the business was heading, and how they could contribute. The solution was to create a social value benchmark and set achievable but ambitious targets for improvement. They now have a clear goal to generate £3million of social value, alongside measurable pledges which include creating six apprentice positions, planting 3,000 trees, and providing annual learning on key subjects to at least 80% of their workforce. 

How to become a social value creator 

For social value creation to be meaningful, it requires structure and measurement against a consistent standard. Without this, claims cannot be quantified fairly and organisations risk losing customer and stakeholder trust. However, the very nature of social value is that it requires a tailored approach; every organisation is unique in what it requires and can provide. 

The complexities inherent in measuring social value were our reason for developing a measurement framework that can be applied easily to any project or activity. 

Known as the National TOMs (Themes, Outcomes and Measures), it provides a minimum reporting standard for measuring social value that can help organisations achieve their individual vision whilst adhering to accepted guidelines. If your organisation is setting out on its social value journey or needs a way to effectively demonstrate the good work it’s already doing, the National TOMs framework is one way to accelerate your progress as a social value creator. Endorsed by the National Social Value Taskforce and Local Government Association, it’s already helping several public sector bodies, including the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, create the change they want to see. We’re looking forward to helping more organisations make sense of social value and create a lasting difference for their communities. 

See ‘The growing prominence of social value’ published by PSE here.