Social value: how do we build thriving communities?

Yana Georgieva

Yana Georgieva, Sustainability Consultant

Creating social value in the UK housing sector.

Social value creation and community investment are now seen as an essential element in housing projects.

As design teams, it’s crucial we appreciate the local differences within these communities, and listen to the diverse views within them.

Listening, dialogue, and discussion allows us to find the most suitable, value-creating solution for each development.

Ultimately, there should be a strong focus on the delivery of attractive community space where people can congregate and socialise. This helps create a community identity and sense of place. People who feel attached to a place will take better care of it.

So what are the key incentives for developers to promote social value in their operations?

 – Increasingly stringent legislative & regulatory framework

The Social Value Act (2012) formalised the requirement for consideration of the wider social, economic and environmental benefits in the case of public procurement.

 – Shifting societal perceptions

We are experiencing a momentous shift in societal expectations of businesses, with organisations under increasing pressure to demonstrate their contribution to society. Social value creation has become a business imperative for developers, particularly on prominent, large-scale projects.

 – Stakeholder confidence and public image

Delivering wider social benefits on a scheme helps get people’s buy-in and create strong ties to local communities, thereby ultimately raising the company’s profile.

 – Competitive advantage

Social value creation and ethical corporate behaviour can be a source of competitive advantage and help organisations differentiate themselves. Studies show that social impact is one of the top criteria that millennials look for and expect from their job.

So what’s holding developers back?

Currently, social value is not understood in a consistent way across different organisations in the industry or by local authorities.

In order to enable stronger collaboration between stakeholders, cross-fertilisation of ideas, and consistency to the work done by different organisations, a common definition of social value in the built environment needs to be agreed.

The importance of formulating a common social value definition is not about semantics. Rather it’s about enabling outcomes and facilitating more impactful and lasting initiatives.

Furthermore, stakeholders in the field should seek to explore synergies across projects to maximise social value creation. Local authorities could be well placed to fulfil an independent coordination role.

Measure for measure

Due to the lack of agreed definition, as you’d expect, there’s also no consistency in the measurement of social value outcomes. While there are several measurement tools used at the moment, there’s no common methodology for real estate or an industry wide framework.

Ultimately, an industry-wide consensus on a consistent methodology across the board is essential to improve clarity, transparency and accountability.