The power of social value

By Mary-Kathryn Adams, Deputy Chief Executive - on 07/02/2019

Leeds was the venue yesterday for our fifth annual social value conference, held jointly with the Northern Housing Consortium.

We were delighted to see some familiar faces amongst the attendees, and also welcomed a number of new people to our network of social value practitioners. It’s been five years since we launched the UK Social Value Bank with Simetrica, and the day was full of energy, ideas and insights exploring how social value measurement in the sector has evolved since 2014.

Debates at the conference ranged from how we can use contracts to drive social value in the procurement process to how we can improve measurement mechanisms across the business in order to engage Boards and galvanise support from decision-makers. Delegates highlighted how nuanced social value measurement is, while emphasising that it doesn’t need to be overly complex. We agreed to the principle of proportionality in measurement to avoid us getting stuck in the inertia of deciding what to measure, and how. As Sandra Coleing, Assistant Chief Executive of Stockport Homes, noted, social value isn’t a dark art; what’s more important is focusing on where it matters to our stakeholders.

Speakers at the conference reminded us of some sobering statistics. The number of billionaires has doubled over the last ten years. Yet one in five people in the UK lives in poverty and 12% of people are in persistent poverty. Jane Corbett, Assistant Mayor of Liverpool and Mayoral Lead for Fairness and Poverty reminded us that this figure includes children like Jack who endure the impact of poverty each day, in one of those rare moments where the collective conscience in the room was palpable.

Sobering, yes. But also facts and figures that represent the reality and remind us why we’re here, why we do what we do, and why evidencing the social value we generate is such a key part of demonstrating our social purpose. This is a mission we’re championing at HACT with the new Centre for Excellence in Community Investment.

As a collective, we talked a lot about how unlocking the real potential of social value in the housing sector (and beyond) will require a commitment to transforming discussions into action. The phrases we return to and the language we use to articulate a challenge are potent and revealing. And there was one word we returned to repeatedly: power.

Throughout the day, our speakers emphasised and reminded us that the levers of power must shift –this was a call to action. In a sector still reeling after Grenfell, we need to rebuild trust. And in a sector that can become fixated on satisfaction scores and compliance, we also need to remember the people at the heart of those metrics.

Sinead Butters MBE, Chief Executive of Aspire Group, spoke passionately and straightforwardly about their People First mission – a philosophy, rather than a strategy. Likewise, Tpas Chief Executive Jenny Osbourne MBE stressed that meaningful resident involvement is vital. For residents, it is soul destroying to pay lip service to resident involvement by engaging them at the point when a decision has already been made.

To demonstrate this commitment, we need to try out ideas that might scare us; we need to try ideas we aren’t sure will work. As Ben Carpenter, Chief Executive of Social Value UK asserted, those who are in positions of power must be prepared to cede some of that power to affect change.

But perhaps it isn’t so much ceding power as rethinking how we employ it and how we deploy it – using it as a mechanism and focusing on how, as a sector, as organisations and as individuals, we affect the social capital of our communities.

With this in mind, we asked ourselves, what else can we do? What more can we do? What can we do differently? Perhaps most importantly, what can we do better – for Jack, for our tenants, and for our organisations.

This is the challenge we took away with us at the close of the day. It is one that HACT will be ready to take on. We hope you’ll join us in exploring the art of the possible: where we take social value measurement next, and how we maximise the power of social value where it matters most.

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