Sheridan Hilton, Senior Account Manager in the Construction Practice, recently attended the Social Value UK Conference 2023. He gives his thoughts on what he learnt and what is next for social value.  

In 2022, the UK celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. Maximising the social impact of every pound spent is now firmly entrenched within industry, but as was discussed this week, measuring meaningful social impact is not always clear cut.

At this year’s Social Value UK ( SVUK) Conference, attendees heard from a range of experts, including Cllr Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council, who gave an impassioned keynote speech about the need to engage at all levels. Cllr Craig argued that if social value is to truly transform places in a meaningful way, it requires cross sector partnership working to deliver better outcomes for local communities. A point echoed throughout the day.

This absolutely echoes Copper’s views on the matter, specifically, on the importance of understanding the communities that we want to support, and reaffirmed our belief that these improvements to collaboration and information gathering are the building blocks of successful social value delivery.

Matthew McKew, Advocacy and Communications Lead at  SVUK, was emphatic when he said that ‘valuation enables decision making’. This was also a point which Erik Bishard, Director at RealWorth, was keen to reinforce: Social Return on Investment (SROI) provides real worth to social value activities, and should be used to help inform decision making.

They both make a very valid point. Only by understanding what has changed for the communities, can we establish the impact created. Once captured, we can then make decisions on how we act on the impact generated.


Weighing Up What Matters

Referring to this impact, it was particularly interesting to hear Adrian Ashton, Enterprise Consultant, suggest that whilst measuring tools such as TOMs and HACT are useful for valuing social impact, they do not necessarily represent the whole story. Equally, if not more important is ensuring the needs of communities remain front and centre of any social value activity. Kate Graefe from ProSustain reinforced this point when she spoke about the need to understand what is truly important to our communities, and  explained the need for ‘nuanced data capture to understand local need.’

Capturing the data is clearly important, and Adrian and Kate reminded listeners that we should use data values as a hook to get the conversation started, and not let that be the end of the story. Delivering social value in partnership helps to ensure it remains relevant to the community, and allows each partner can play to their strengths, bringing something distinct to support communities which the other cannot.


Leaving a legacy to support sustainable change          

Ultimately, everyone agreed that organisations and social value practitioners should always want to do better, by  pushing forward with opportunities for industry to support new and existing communities, leaving and ultimately leaving a lasting legacy.

By its definition, sustainability suggests ‘continuing indefinitely into the future.’ If social value delivers what communities need and expect, then there is a strong chance a real legacy will be created.


The last piece of the jigsaw      

Whilst there are many opportunities to harness the benefit of sustainable impact, some challenges remain. Not least the struggle, by many, to understand the concept of social value. Copper’s newly published Social Value Attitudes Report, highlights that while the sector has been getting increasingly strategic about the way it gives back to communities, the public’s understanding of all of that work hasn’t always kept pace.

This reiterates what came out so strongly at the conference – the need to understand what is truly important to our communities, and how to best use data to capture it.

Finally, it is also fair to say that a lack of a standard definition is not helping to clear the fog of confusion. It was fantastic to hear Social Value UK announce their Political Manifesto at the conference, and meeting their ambition to get the industry to settle on a standard definition will be pivotal. Copper looks forward to working with SVUK on developing this manifesto further and ensuring that our industry and beyond work collaboratively to deliver on the needs and priorities of our communities and stakeholders.


Do you need help with writing bids, local insight gathering, developing social value strategies or community engagement? Get in touch here.