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Social Value

Since the introduction of the Public Services (Social Value) Act, public bodies in England must consider how commissioned and procured services improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area. 

Social value means different things to different people in different communities, as social and environmental problems in one area may differ widely from the problems in another. 

Chris White, the MP behind the Act, explains social value well.

“We mean ‘value’ not in its narrow [financial] sense but in its true sense – recognising the importance of social, environmental and economic well-being across our communities and in our lives”. 

Examples of social value might be the value we experience from increasing our confidence, or from living next to a community park. These things are important to us, but are not commonly expressed or measured in the same way that financial value is.

Anyone can start to account for their social value, no matter the size of the organisation or the amount of resources available.

Social value is the term used to describe the additional value created in the delivery of a service contract which has a wider community or public benefit. This extends beyond the social value delivered as part of the primary contract activity. 

An example could be a charity that is funded to provide safe accommodation to young people, the ‘social value’ is created by providing routes into employment and training which it is not funded to do.

You may be more familiar with ‘added value’ but this should not be confused with social value,  the key difference between the two is that social value delivers benefits on a wider scale to the local community, whereas added value consists of measurable savings specifically made to benefit the commissioner and their customers.

One key challenge has been how to measure social value but this is now becoming increasingly consistent. The National Social Value Measurement Framework or National TOMs for short (TOMs stands for “Themes, Outcomes and Measures”) was developed by the Social Value Portal and launched in 2017. Endorsed by the Local Government Association, its adoption is spreading rapidly through the local government sector. . A key benefit of a TOMs-based social value measurement system is that it comprises a series of objectively researched standalone measures that can be extended or reduced without compromising the integrity of the framework, provided a consistent methodological approach is taken.

The TOMs provide the “golden thread” between social value strategy and delivery, as follows:

  • THEMES – the components of an organisation’s “vision” for social value
  • OUTCOMES – the positive changes that the organisation wants to see. In effect, what “good” looks like to that organisation
  • MEASURES – what objective indicators will be used to measure whether these outcomes are being met

Further Reading

Social Value Act
Social Value Portal
Social Value in Commissioning and Procurement
Social Value UK