There is a growing importance around social value in construction. How does development benefit the community? And, as communications professionals, how should we share those benefits?

It’s a question that CAPSIG will be discussing at its event “Social value and mega-projects” next week (tickets still available here).

Speakers Lucy Webster, Director of External Affairs at London’s £4.2bn Thames Tideway project, and Tim Holmes, Director of Communications & Stakeholder Relations on the A$6.7bn West Gate Tunnel Project in Melbourne, Australia, will share their experiences of trying to drive social value, engage with communities and communicate the benefits of their projects.

If you can’t attend or would like to know more about social value beforehand, keep reading.

What is social value?

Bristol City Council offer a clear definition: “Social value is about maximising the impact of public expenditure to get the best possible outcomes, and recognising that local people are central to determining how these can be achieved.”

It means that those operating in construction need to ensure that new development results in wider social benefits. There is a legal imperative for this. The Social Value Act 2012 is designed to ensure that public sector organisations consider social value as part of their procurement process.

There is also an ethical imperative, driven by people’s changing expectations. In a report published earlier this year, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) explained that the issue of social value is growing in importance: “We are experiencing a momentous shift in our expectations of business, with organisations under increasing pressure to demonstrate their contribution to society.”

How is social value met?

A lot of focus in delivering social value is at the delivery phase of construction, specifically job creation. However, best practice is to consider the benefits to local stakeholders once the development has been delivered. What is the legacy of the project and what problems will it help to solve?

To do this, you need to understand the local context. From here, you can then identify the positive outcomes you want to deliver by looking at the issues facing the community. These desired outcomes can be arranged under three broad themes; jobs and economic growth; health, wellbeing and the environment; and strength of community.

How can communicators play a role?

Those working in PR are well placed to research and identify the local context. Two important parts of our role are horizon scanning, to reveal potential issues for our clients, and building meaningful relationships with stakeholders.

Using “strength of community” as an example, one of the aims is to make the community feel that they have ownership of a project. Ways of doing this might include:

  • Hosting stakeholder workshops to explore development plans together and identify their needs
  • Building relationships with key partners and giving them the tools to help champion schemes
  • Setting up and maintaining direct methods of communication, e.g. online forums, WhatsApp groups, etc.

These tactics all fall naturally within the skillset of PR professionals and should be led or at least influenced by them.

The graph below demonstrates how higher engagement and better relationships with stakeholders results in better outcomes.

The likelihood of good social value outcomes when involving stakeholders
The likelihood of good social value outcomes when involving stakeholders

Higher engagement doesn’t just result in better outcomes at the project level. Delivering projects that benefit communities also improve the reputation of the organisation behind the development. As described in an earlier blog, the reputation of construction has a number of issues. Delivering social value will help.

What barriers stop social value being achieved?

According to UKGBC, common perceived barriers to achieving social value include a lack of understanding about what it means, the difficulty of measuring success, and the perceived expense of delivering it.

The fact that this is the perception shows that there needs to be more communication about the benefits of social value within the construction sector. Again, as communications professionals, we should be using our skills and our positions working within the sector to help explain the opportunities and drive change.

If we do this at the earliest stages, we can help to lead the process and set the aspirations for developments, using our knowledge gained through local research and stakeholder feedback and our understanding of the strengths of the organisations we represent.

Photo by Vitaliy Paykov on Unsplash

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