Materiality is prized across Social Value stakeholders, yet nowhere in the market does there exist an agreed upon method of testing this materiality. There are many working groups, I sit on one myself, that are trying to plug this gap but the truth is that it’s a tough nut to crack. Built environment industry leaders, Social Value experts, and all those in between are struggling to pull together a standard interpretation of Social Value, let alone a standard approach.
Collaborations, such as that between VINCI Facilities and Social Value UK, are becoming more commonplace. These should be commended as the industry realises its need to contribute to the development of Social Value and the improvements they can offer the communities in which they work. However, such projects still occur at a relatively high level, requiring time and experience to gain maturity and so are the beginning of a long and complicated process.
Data Exists In Silos
Although some databases of knowledge exist (e.g. Social Value UK, Social Value Portal and Social Enterprise) there is still a fundamental lack of understanding around these datasets. Those directly involved in collecting the data may have some local and specific knowledge, but this is rarely shared outside of the project, let alone into the wider industry. Information silos are a well-known problem in all industries, and it is common knowledge that sharing learning is, more often than not, to the benefit of all. In the case of Social Value this is particularly true, because the enormous range of potential actions to improve Social Value on any given contract leaves more opportunity than usual to build strategies and activities that may already have been implemented elsewhere.
Variation And Innovation
That being said, there is also a significant amount of specificity required. Each contract is different, as is each location, and so every chance to implement Social Value will be different also. This should in no way preclude contractors. Variability on this scale is an opportunity for market leadership and innovation. When each situation is unique there are infinite ways to give back to the communities you work in, through employment, skills, business support, education, and countless other crucial ways. Ensuring engagement occurs effectively is even more crucial so that the activities undertaken are appropriate to the need of the community.
Be In It For The Long-Run
None of this negates the good work being done in the industry. I could showcase many great examples of Social Value implementation that I have seen myself, but they almost always happen in isolation. Constructing meaningful Social Value requires long term and cyclical thinking with frequent review and editing – as contracts and communities both grow and change, requiring different types of Social Value and different stages in their growth.
However, despite the vast amounts of opportunity there is little Social Value coherence in the market. What contracts need is practice – practice listening to stakeholders, practice identifying and understanding their options, practice implementing and evaluating these options, and practice sharing knowledge, experience and best practice.