The ‘prove it’ era of social value

Making a case to invest in buildings is pretty straightforward as decisions often sit with a manageable number of people, writes Stephen O’Malley of Civic Engineers.

Making the case to invest in urban landscape is not so easy. It is public realm and everybody has a stake. To add to that complexity, there are a wide range of design choices and outcomes that feed into, or stem from every detail. This makes converting a square meter of granite setts into a monetised and social value particularly challenging. It is a challenge that we are working hard to overcome and it is vital that we are able to prove the economic, social and environmental impact of our work.

At Civic Engineers, we work in partnership with the Social Profit Calculator. Here we explain how answering the question of ‘So what? ‘ can be done in a way that truly means something.

It’s five years since the Public Services (Social Value) Act (2012)1 was passed through parliament, and although only applicable to public sector procurement in its wording and focus, it certainly lit a fire under the majority of organisations working with or alongside public sector too. The act didn’t change behaviours and practice overnight, but was part of the journey that social value has been on for a long time.

In 2006 Business in the Community (BITC) released a report2 that outlined society’s perceptions and expectations relating to the environmental agenda and how these changed over time (as the area of environmental sustainability matured).
• Trust you (1970s)
• Tell me (1980s)
• Show me (1990s)
• Prove it (2000s)

Social Value has been on this journey too and 2018 brings us well and truly into the ‘prove it’ era of what is now expected of our business community.

Chris White’s new review, ‘Our Money, Our Future’3, emphasises a need to demonstrate the impact of social value based on spend. This can apply to all businesses, not just those legally obliged to work under the terms of the act.

So, how do we prove what we are doing in a tangible way and without being asked the dreaded question of “So what?”

As we make engineering decisions through built environment capital expenditure programmes we create impact. Impact on the economy, on people and on the planet. Delivering projects for our clients gives us layers of responsibility to ensure we are maximising this impact in the right local areas. We know we are doing the right things, procuring locally, engaging with those hard to reach, supporting education and skills…but we need to show what this means in a financial impact context.

Working with the Social Profit Calculator (SPC) we have embraced the ‘prove it’ social value movement by demonstrating what the social, economic and fiscal impact has been for every pound spent through us and our supply chain. SPC provides us with a software platform linked to a bespoke database for calculating impact without overclaim.
Being able to prove the impact of our work in this way means we will rarely get asked ‘So what?’ When telling our stories of working with clients, communities and local businesses – our impact is clear. We’ve proven it. Here’s the proof with 2 of our projects;

Altrincham Town Centre
Altrincham created £6.8m in Social Value and Economic Impact through reduced crime, increased use of the town centre, attracting new businesses and increasing employment.

Altrincham Town Improvement Phase 1 By Planit IE.

Altrincham Town improvement Phase 1

Poynton created £3.4m in fiscal savings, economic benefits and social value through improvements to road safety, reduced congestion, and improved health and wellbeing.

Poynton Town Centre

This article was originally published in Place Resources

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