What does the future hold for social value?

13 March 2019

Speakers at the Social Value Leaders Summit at King’s College, London, discussed the future of social value across public, private and social enterprise sectors.

Delegates were told how collaboration, transparency and examining local environments can inform social value in the future. 

1. Localise your approach to social value

John Dunne, director of safety, health, environment, quality and sustainability at Wates, said social value must be considered in any projects the firm undertakes, and it has spent £20m with social enterprises to date.

He said: “That doesn't mean you should employ any social enterprise. That means you employ a good social enterprise, that is competitive and can be nurtured and simply by doing that, it beds social value and social enterprise in the way you work. Social enterprises are benefiting from being part of our supply chain and being part of our business.”

Dunne also discussed the importance of taking a localised view when it comes to social value, something that is often considered quite a broad term.

He said it isn’t possible to apply uniform social value practices across the board, as an understanding of the environment and the local community dynamics your business is operating in is important.

He said: “As a result, you understand what the issues are for each client. Maybe it's youth unemployment, maybe it’s diversity or sustainability. There are different priorities from a social value perspective.

“You need to develop a localised approach to social value which is important to you as the person providing the social value, and to the community because ultimately that's the way to the best form of engagement and longevity in terms of benefits.”

2. Collaboration across sectors

Zoë Billingham, head of policy at the Centre for Progressive Policy cited the example of collaboration across all parties at a local level to sustain social value in the “one city” approach taken by Bristol City Council.

Billingham said understanding each party’s individual needs, including social partners, politicians, civil servants, businesses and investors, and aligning objectives to have a clear collective vision was important.

As well as collaborating at a local level, Billingham said that local areas can incorporate the international agenda, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030.

“It includes goals on reducing inequality, decent work and economic growth and sustainable cities, which are all very much goals that we see written into local economic plans,” she said.

3. Take an interest in the problem, as well as the solution

For Anna Gross, CEO of social enterprise Project Access, it’s important to work with people who are interested in solving the problem, rather than providing the solution, as it may not always be the right answer.

“Many times we have had a solution we thought was going to completely change the game but ended up doing next to nothing for the people who we were intending it for. It is a really important lesson for our growth and development, for us to get better at doing what we do. It's so important that we care about the problem, not the solution that we're attached to.”

Gross thinks businesses should focus on incentives and transparency in order to accurately measure the impact of social enterprises.

“If you're procuring a project, one of the most important things to look at is how can you develop incentive structures that allow the organisation that you're working with to truthfully tell you how things are going and improve alongside you as a partner,” she said.

Gross said that by being transparent in how much projects cost in overheads and delivery, enterprises will be able to see in more detail how effective interventions have been.

4. Care over cost

Henry Kippin, director of public service reform for the West Midlands Combined Authority, said that while most business cases in the last decade have been based on cost savings, authorities now have an opportunity to look at social value.

He said: “There is an opportunity as we as edge towards post-Brexit and potentially new thinking about procurement and the end of austerity. I think we owe it to ourselves to take the social value concept and pull it up and start being a bit more strategic.”

As a combined authority with a huge number of projects running at all times, Kippin said there are huge opportunities for commissioning, procurement and linking growth and social purpose.

To look at these opportunities, Kippin said the authority has a social economy taskforce to examine not only the size of the social economy but its context within strategic growth in the West Midlands.

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