Social Value – keeping it simple!

CommunityHands up if you want to head for the hills when faced with discussions about social value?

Are you left confused by terms such as social value, social impact and social return on investment? 

I often experience these terms being used in an interchangeable way by very senior staff in large commissioning organisations, it is no wonder most of us are still wary of the subject. I tend to find the best approach to most things is keeping it simple; it would be great if commissioners, contract managers and service providers all spoke the same language around social value.

 So why do we need to know about it?  Essentially, social value encourages us to explore how we can gain the widest benefit for our communities from everything we buy and provide.  This is an important shift from a pure profit/loss focus.  The Sustainable Procurement Task Force defines social value as:

‘A process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment’.

Social impact is just as it says, it is the impact services and goods have on our communities, essentially the difference they make.  Measuring the impact is increasingly important as most tender opportunities ask us to describe what our added value is.  We can only truly answer this question when we understand what difference we already make, which then informs how we can expand/vary this going forward.

The additional benefits are often incidental and sometimes only realised when speaking to or obtaining feedback from service users/customers and the local community. 

Attaching a monetary value to these wider benefits helps us identify our social return on investment (SROI).  This is extremely useful in helping us understand just how good we really are and is a great confidence boost to most organisations.  An SROI measurement can be done with the help of a simple user friendly toolkit and is powerful knowledge that can help us articulate our real worth in the language of commissioners. 

If we keep it simple, understanding social value is a valuable key to understanding our competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive market.  For further information please contact Sue Fry or Suzy James


Suzy James, director of MRE