Reflecting on my experience of the Social Value UK training course and its relevance for those in the built environment

18 Jun 24

Social value has a much greater emphasis on engaging with stakeholders to understand the impact of decisions on their lives.

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Over the past three weeks, I have been on the Social Value UK “social value return on investment” training. To provide context, my role at Iceni has evolved significantly in recent years. Initially, I worked within our Economics team, focusing on socio-economics, and assessing the economic and health impacts of proposed developments. My responsibilities then shifted towards our Engagement and Place team, working closely with communities on a wide range of projects. Prior to the course, I thought social value was about engaging communities around positive change and quantifying the change delivered.

Now having completed the course and got more involved in the work of the Engagement and Place team, I’ve come to realise that my initial understanding was too narrow. Social value has a much greater emphasis on engaging with stakeholders to understand the impact of decisions on their lives. The people’s perspective is critical. The measuring and quantifying of the social value outputs is secondary and supplements our understanding to inform better decision-making to increase positive change and decrease the negative impacts.

My main takeaways were:

  • Involving stakeholders is key – Engaging stakeholders effectively is vital to delivering genuine social value. Starting a project by posing the right questions to the right people is crucial for fostering positive change.
  • Enough precision to inform the decision – A common concern of reporting on social value is that the monetary value cannot be compared. Our trainer reassured us that all that is needed is enough precision for the decision. This is reassuring as measuring social value return on investment is a fine art, but as long as you provide references to sources used, and follow the best practice, the social value in a monetary sense can follow.
  • It is possible to put the ‘S’ in ESG – Despite my initial reluctance to employ this phrase, I’ve learned that practical steps can be taken to incorporate social value effectively. This begins with identifying stakeholder groups and posing pertinent questions at appropriate times. Following that, it then involves utilising these responses to assist in navigating the various choices or decisions we continually face in our work, spanning different levels of risk, and resource allocations.

My final takeaway from the course is that the development industry is perfectly placed to do more.

I say this because, as an industry where we are already engaging with stakeholders, we can go one step further and make sure we are asking the right questions to delivering positive change. Whilst it is encouraging to see local authorities such as Salford including social value as a validation requirement for major planning applications, and our team have supported clients to meet this criteria, there needs to be a greater buy-in from all involved that this should not be a tick box exercise. Rather, it should be standard practice to ensure that new developments are truly embedded in the places being developed to maximise the social value return on investment.

Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about Iceni’s social value offer, which I am now supporting, or the Social Value UK Return on Investment Course, please reach out to me at lcarver@iceniprojects.com.

Laura Carver Senior Consultant,Engagement