The long list of social challenges in the UK only seems to be growing. On a daily basis there’s a new crisis reported in the media, with recent headlines including 130,000 children homeless over Christmas, the alarming rise in knife crime and the £7 billion deficit in elderly care funding.

In November 2018 the UN Report on poverty highlighted the massive inequalities in the UK, while nationalism is on the rise in many countries and trust in government and big business is at an all-time low. And then there’s Brexit…

But before I make you all thoroughly miserable, there is light to be found. As I look at the response to some of these situations, I’m buoyed because I see shared leadership and growing responsibility in equal measures in both likely and unlikely places.

Positive future

In the construction trade press we’re seeing a growing interest in the movement from CSR to social value, while individual companies, both small and large, are working increasingly hard to make a difference.

Social enterprises and co-operatives are playing an increasingly important role in our economy; employing over two million people and contributing over £60 billion to UK GDP. This is especially good news when you consider that the top five co-operatives in the UK pay more tax than Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Ebay and Starbucks combined (The Hidden Revolution published by SEUK & Co-op).

Minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington, announced last November that central government will begin to use a new model to evaluate the social impact of contracts by summer 2019. This extends the Social Value Act 2012 to require procurement officials to explicitly evaluate social value where appropriate, instead of simply considering it.

This seems to indicate a wind of change and there’s even more positive news out there.

Measuring our success

As I talk and listen to colleagues in the social value field there is a greater understanding of what we mean by social value and we are becoming better at measuring it. CEO of Social Value UK, Ben Carpenter, observed at the recent Social Value Conference that we are finally moving beyond just measurement and towards management and strategic positioning of social value in both public and private sector companies.

Much as this news gives me a warm glow, I want to add a word of caution , because I’m not sure we’ve got the measurement piece totally sorted yet. As little as 12 months ago it would be fair to say that many of us didn’t truly understand what social value was and we definitely didn’t know what good looked like. We are now, at least, on the road to starting to understand this.

Many of us are using Social Return on Investment (SROI) as a way of demonstrating what we do. Here at Willmott Dixon we continue to use externally verified TOMs (Themes Measures and Outcomes) verified by Social Value Portal. Rather than simply reporting what we have invested or done, SROI takes into account the impact on an individual and/or the community we are working in. There are other tools and measuring systems available (Social Value Calculator, HACT, Social Value Engine, to name a few), as well as some companies who are developing their own measurement methods. The fact that we are starting to measure the impact rather than the value that we have invested is a big step in the right direction.

A consistent approach

For the sake of our customers, and ultimately our communities, what is really important now, is that we are consistent in how we show and compare true value.

Unlike our falling pound, there is no exchange rate to guide us. So where one person, company or project can claim a 10% SROI, there are others who are claiming 100%. Sometimes these figures will include different things (local labour impact for example) and sometimes the calculations will just give different values to the same social value activities.

So which is right? To be honest, I don’t know and to some degree it’s irrelevant, as long as in the strive to do the right thing we don’t get drawn into a competitive game of one-upmanship to show how we are doing more than the person next door by manipulating numbers rather than showing true value. It is so important that we continue to engender trust in our reporting methods, while at the same time strategically embedding social value in our companies.

So as the world around us becomes more segregated, how about we all make a new year’s resolution to find an even ground and common currency for measuring social value? And whilst we get the numbers sorted - we must go back to the people. It is their experience and stories that give us the true impact. Here are a few of our people’s stories from 2018.