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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.

Partnerships Exist

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.

It is odd, during the keynote speech at a social sustainability event, to hear the phrase “CSR [corporate social responsibility] is dead”, but so began the FM Leader’s Forum on Social Value. It’s a valid point of view – the system has been modified and corrupted and abused to the point that CSR is now an almost meaningless term, aligned more with marketing. The original intention behind CSR was noble, but the outcomes less so. Social Value is now moving into the same sphere, but how will FM interact with this new term, and all the underlying complexities? What is Social Value to FM? And brutally, what do these industry leaders in city towers know about implementing positive social change on the ground?

Social value does not fit so neatly into the classic corporate paradigm of measurement and management, something the conversation seemed stuck on at various points throughout the session. I appreciate the issue, and sympathise, but they sometimes seemed to be missing the point a little – measurement comes during and after the fact, and FM as an industry has a way to go before reaching this point. The focus must now be engagement and building a strong social value foundation on which the future FMs can build.

There was a clear desire among industry leaders to take more than a ‘tick-box’ approach, and the ambition of both providers and clients on the positive social value FM could deliver was refreshing, but there was a distinct lack of knowledge of how to turn this ambition into industry-wide success. Although the motivations of the room were admirable there was a noted lack of motivation across the industry, and some key implementation concerns were unanswered, but this is the start of a process. Our industry is engaged and actively learning about how to do better by the communities they work in – and at every stage of the process that is to be celebrated.

The workshop overall had a challenged optimism – the industry is ready to get moving on Social Value but is under no illusions of the work the lies ahead. Noble ambitions can only take Social Value so far, and from this forum I came away with a cautious optimism. If we can get these good intentions out of the clouds and onto the ground in contracts, the industry is in for some impressive change.