Social value – your tool to create wellbeing through open space

In this blog, Prue Wales explores how public bodies can use the principles of social value to create a platform to deliver long term societal impact.

November 30, 2022
February 21, 2023
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As regular readers will know, we consistently champion engagement with girls and young women as a means to creating more inclusive spaces. But we also want to be part of creating a greater understanding about the structural features in our legal and planning systems that can be used to normalise and de-risk the process of creating more inclusive parks and similar spaces. We’ve looked on previous occasions at the Public Sector Equality Duty and we are excited to look at another structural mechanism aimed at making spaces that are better for all of our communities: the social value framework.

This week we have a guest blog from Prue Wales, Principal Consultant at Temple. Prue specialises in social value and is a Social Value UK accredited practitioner. She advises both public sector clients, and private sector clients on how to create, embed and measure social value in their projects. She is particularly interested in how social value can be used to create long term positive outcomes during regeneration and the planning process.

In this blog, Prue explores how public bodies can use the principles of social value to create a platform to deliver long term societal impact. This is particularly important when we consider the development of community assets, like open space, in the context of who they are being developed for and how this can benefit girls and their local communities.

An Introduction to Social Value

Social value is a term that has been widely used in England since 2012, yet there is still limited understanding of how it can be harnessed as a driver for change in communities.

Thinking through the social value you want to achieve through re-designing and imagining public space with young people and particularly girls has the potential to have long-term wellbeing impacts, that also contribute to wider community policy objectives. Examples of this in practice include Vienna’s gender-sensitive parks which incorporate design principles such as safer lighting, flexible uses, shelter and wider & multiple entrances and exits. Vienna – Make Space for Girls

What is Social Value?

An exact definition of social value is hard to pin down. However, a good starting point is The Public Services Act 2012 (otherwise known as The Social Value Act). This defines social value in England as requiring ‘public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services’. There are equivalent acts in the devolved nations.

This means that since 2012, public bodies have been required to consider the delivery of social value through contracts they procure. Some common examples of outputs that you might see in a social value framework or policy from a public authority are:

Social: opportunities for volunteering, access to mental health support, initiatives to reduce crime

Economic: employment opportunities, access to training, increasing access to supply chains

Environmental: reducing car miles travelled, Net Zero Carbon targets, increases in walking and cycling

Development of Social Value

It is important here to give some context to the landscape of social value. Due to policy drivers to evaluate social value in procurement there has been increasing pressure to quantify and monetise social value outcomes. This has driven the creation of multiple social value frameworks which prioritise measuring outputs (such as the examples above). Whilst this, to some extent, has mainstreamed the concept of social value, it can lead both procuring authorities and their suppliers to pursue outputs that give higher quantified proxy values rather than examining what long-term and sustainable change they are trying to create.

Social value can sometimes be siloed into what may seem like an arcane procurement process. Yet, in the past five years an increasing number of Local Authorities are linking social value into the planning process through social value statements. This approach has been welcomed by the Local Government Association.[1]

So, when thinking about how public bodies can use social value effectively, we must bear in mind that whilst quantification offers benefits and the need to record social value delivery is important, it is not the whole picture.

The Principles of Social Value

Public Authorities can tweak their existing social value approach or create a new approach that prioritises the process of understanding and creating wellbeing outcomes.

Increasingly, developers are understanding the language of social value and are willing to invest in initiatives that create it. However, this is only where is a clear lead from the Local Authority on what is needed and expected, and provided that there are realistic expectations, which are tailored to the opportunity at hand.

In light of this it is perhaps better to think of what principles public authorities should ensure are underlying their social value approach.

venn diagram of social value which is formed by the overlapping of Understanding Local Need, Building Capacity and Measuring Impact

At Temple, we define social value as how we impact people’s quality of life. To create real social value, business activities, project outputs and associated outcomes should:

• Address a context-specific need;

• Be created in partnership with those affected by the intervention; and

• Be evaluated to determine what has changed.

These principles align with Social Value UK’s overarching approach.[2]

When thinking about how we can improve access to open space for girls, this is clearly aligned with the core principles of social value. It involves looking at how spaces are currently used, identifying how the opportunity aligns with a local need and using social value as a legislative hook to encourage specific actions.

Ensuring Long-Term Value

So, how do we know if social value has been created? Measuring wellbeing is a complex task and requires ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Something that is unlikely to be covered in a simple key performance indicator, and unlikely to be seen during a one contract term or construction phase.  

However, through taking the above approach to prioritise the process of understanding, co-creating and, finally, measuring wellbeing changes we are more likely to create real social value, and be able to respond quickly if the delivery of social value is not happening as intended.

Social value isn’t a quick fix, or a nice number, but investigating how to address long-term resilience for communities.

[1] Local Government Association: Social Value Statement

[2] Social Value UK

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