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What’s social value – and what are we doing about it?

Social value – what’s it all about?

Social Value is a really good way of showing the additional impact of implementing a project or policy.  It has come to the fore through a desire to better show the wider beneficial impacts of public and VCSE sector activities – many of these are tricky to identify in monetary terms, so new methods of showing added value (old term for ‘social value’) have been developed.

Social value emerged in the Public Service Act 2012. The importance of demonstrating social value has grown as a result of this legislation. With a shift from grants to contracts among many of our public sector partners, and the emphasis on demonstrating social value being articulated at central Government level, it is important for the VCSE sector to grasp the social value nettle and find ways of demonstrating effectively, in a way that meets funders’ requirements, what we often do naturally.

The importance of Social Value has been highlighted in the Government Green Paper on Transforming Public Procurement, which has established a mandatory weighting for social value in Central Government and arms-length organisations’ contracts. This is not mandatory at local government level yet, but is emerging as a requirement for local government contracts. The VCSE sector has (in common with other sectors) struggled to agree on a singular social value definition. This is understandable as it is a complex and evolving area of how a VCSE organisation operates.

CAS has recognised that we (as an organisation) add significant social value in how we operate, and we need to develop a more robust approach to how we measure social value.  As we do this, we plan to share our journey to highlight how organisations of all sizes can identify the social value that they bring to the table, and then work out ways to increase this and thence the benefit from their work. We know that at present we communicate and measure in an informal way. The challenge – in the face of more structured approach by some of our main funders – is to develop and implement a strategy for this work.

Why does CAS want to do this?

We are the go-to organisation for the VCSE sector in Suffolk.  We have a strong mission to ensure that our sector, and its volunteers, is supported, safe and sustainable and that our communities are active and resilient. We are driven by the desire to make things better, and to capture the wider benefits of our work.  We are influenced by emerging Government policy towards social value, a realisation that we are not capturing our social value in a structured way as a key infrastructure organisation, and a desire not to miss opportunities to add value – these often come by chance.  Recently CAS became involved with Farrans, the developer of the Gull Wing Bridge in Lowestoft – by chance.  A member of staff attended a meet the buyer event where the social value aspirations for the project were outlined.  The CAS local team contacted Farrans and found that their contacts at the local authority did not have contact with the Communities Team; Farrans was then able to link into local groups across the wider VCSE sector who could help to develop Farrans’ social value offer. The result has been the development of offers to local people, local groups, work experience and employability actions.

CAS is also driven by the need to raise awareness in parts of the VCSE sector, and to showcase best practice from the sector.  It’s a marathon not a sprint so by sharing our own experience through this blog, we hope that we can inspire and raise awareness at the same time.

So, what are we doing?

The first steps are to assemble evidence of what we are doing now that adds social value – so how our buildings work, what systems we use for heating/lighting etc., or how we encourage staff to think about energy usage.

A key step is to develop a statement of what social value means for CAS as an organisation.  This will lead to the development of a social value strategy that will guide our work in this area.

We aim to use social value to demonstrate what we add to our own and our partners’ work that creates added benefits for our people, our communities, and our partners.  By making a choice to use local suppliers, to use resources more efficiently, to reduce our impact on the environment, to encourage local applicants for our jobs and to raise awareness, we can share best practice and through this influence others to add more social value through their normal work.