There needs to be much more focus on social value in the planning and infrastructure sectors to embed it in ‘on the ground’ activity, argues BECG’s Ally Kennedy.
It’s been just over eight years since the Social Value Act came into law, requiring those who commission public services to think about how they can also secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits.
Although the concept of social value has been part of successive government narratives since David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and investment in infrastructure is at the top of this government’s agenda in ‘levelling up’ the UK, the focus on social value is still notably absent from much of planning and infrastructure.
Social value is increasingly embedded in public and private procurement for infrastructure contracts, and these projects deliver a whole host of benefits through the supply chain. BUT – there is arguably still a significant disconnect between policy and legislative requirements and the delivery of meaningful and beneficial social value ‘on the ground’.
So how do we go about changing that?
Clearly a complex problem such as this has no silver bullet “answer”, but BECG has argued the solution to this challenge breaks down into four key areas:
1. Education. Bringing the industry and key stakeholders on the journey so that they understand the opportunities and, crucially, don’t see any future requirements around social value as a burden or some kind of hurdle to clear. It’s crucial that all organisations see social value as an opportunity and something that can work with their own commercial objectives.
There is a huge opportunity and role for the communications industry to play on this point - to act as advocates, and really help push the social value agenda forward successfully.
2. Making social value a common thread throughout the lifecycle of a project. Ensuring that the Social impact and future legacy of projects is right at the core of how a project is conceived, and then taking that approach through all its subsequent stages in terms of how it’s planned, designed, consented, and ultimately delivered. With procurement playing a key role in that process along the way.
3. A mixed approach to measurement. Yes, it needs to be specific, tangible, measurable – but it also needs to be impactful, put people at the centre and not drift into the territory of pure number crunching.
Ultimately, measurement and assessment of social value is about outcomes and outputs. A blended approach to how we measure social value is important - and that needs to feed into the way we talk about and assess it.
4. Communicate! Last but certainly not least…. communicating why social value is important, how it can change lives, what a particular project will or has achieved, and why all this represents a ‘win win’ for all stakeholders involved, is critically important.
Communications agencies in this sector will always find themselves at the interface between different stakeholders with regards to social value, so have a key role to play in joining these strands together, as well as shouting about where this has been done successfully to deliver positive outcomes.
Clearly there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic and positive about the future of social value and its relationship with major infrastructure. But navigating the issues mentioned here does present some challenges – as well as opportunities – and successfully tackling those is going to be vital in driving the social value agenda forward.
Ally Kennedy is a board director at BECG, the specialist communications consultancy for the built environment.