Social value | ISG

Increasing pressure could be the hidden gem to crystallising our industry’s approach to delivering true social value.

We know that without intense pressure, the most coveted and valuable diamonds would not reach their potential - and I can’t help but draw parallels to the cyclical evolution of our industry’s approach to social value.

In recent times we’ve seen our social value focus sharpened by a series of crises that have each presented society with previously unchartered adversity – but if recent experience has taught us anything, it’s that by joining together with our peers, clients and stakeholders across the built environment community we can solve the big problems that our world faces.

We must remain unified in our human focussed responses, but once again step up a gear in our ambitions to deliver true, tangible value back to the communities in which we exist, demonstrable by enhanced lived experiences.

To scale up and multiply positive impact, I believe we must learn from a decade of progress; we must reframe our ambitions and evolve performance measurement; and we must work in partnership to share the knowledge and tools to ensure commitments live on within the communities in which we operate.

ISG’s latest research report, ‘The power of place: The True cost of inaction’, which canvassed occupiers, asset owners and investors alike, highlights the defining role the places around us have on the fabric and future vibrancy of our towns and cities. The good news is, we’re now facing a prime opportunity to revive our society and communities through a focus on the physical infrastructure, buildings and places that knit them together – both the desire and the pathway for communities to take control of their own destiny and revival is crystallising.

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But how do we play a role in turning rhetoric into outcomes that matter? I believe we need to take an empirical approach to winning minds, whilst still winning hearts.

If we cast our mind back to the years of lobbying in the wake of the 2008 recession, a fire was lit under the movement and in 2012 the Social Value Act was passed as a beacon of hope and pledge of the UK Government’s commitments to forge a better way forward. However, the act focussed our attention on unlocking the potential of embedding social value in procurement, posing a challenge to procurers on how we determine what a ‘good’ social value offer looks like. As a result, by 2016 we’d entered into what could be defined as an era of proof - with economic and fiscal modelling emerging to help put financial metrics against social and environmental outcomes. 
However, having emerged from a shared time of profound difficulty, which has disproportionately impacted some parts of society and served to deepen some existing inequalities – an escalating social consciousness is driving market behaviours and investment decisions. As industries are transitioning from short-term decision-making to long-term preparation for a radical new reality, most businesses are awakened to this and are placing corporate responsibility at the heart of their agenda and setting their stall out by making bold ESG commitments.
Organisations know the increasing social movement means discerning customers are scrutinising ethical practices when making purchasing decisions to a degree we’ve perhaps never witnessed before, and they need to be seen to take decisive action. 

“In terms of delivering true social value through our operations, I feel we’re in the best possible position we’ve ever been in – but only if we’re able to reflect on the journey to take both the knowledge and learnings that have provided true credibility from financial modelling, but also return to the precipice of when the movement began, it’s true purpose. ”

Carrie-Ann Huelin, Group Head of Social Value, ISG

Our ability to calculate the quantum of change we deliver will highlight best practice and enable us to focus on areas that have the greatest impact in areas that have the greatest challenges. However, we also need to be mindful of data fatigue, we need to retain the credibility that monetisation of social value gave us, but complement that by reinvigorating the original purpose of being a responsible business – to do good things that truly improve people’s lives.
Economic and Fiscal measures can tell us that providing an apprenticeship has helped someone earn more, gain skills that increase their future earning potential, and possibly reduced their use of health services if they are able to eat well and exercise. What it doesn’t reveal is the human experience, such as whether the apprentice feels included in the workplace, or enjoys the job they are doing, or feels they have a work life balance. These are all the things we need to know to be sure that we are having truly positive impact.

Accountability has to start at home, but not by acting alone – collaboration is the cornerstone of progress. 

To act as a force for good we must embrace and drive-forth radical change, which requires innovation. Experience tells us that innovation works best when done collaboratively, where all contributors can come to the table, not as adversaries managing the distribution of risk, but jointly pushing boundaries, safe in the surrounds of transparency and shared ambitions.
Since my time with ISG began, I’ve been heartened to see how ambitious we are as an organisation, but our ambitions are inherently different and our measures of success are not linear or created purely for reporting purposes. It’s the legacies we help to shape that drive forth our very vision. Of course we set targets to push the business forward, but we understand that these must also create a bigger pool of impact across the industry, not just on our projects. We are being braver about setting some strategies, in partnership with our clients, that will see benefits realised in five or ten years time, because the footprint of those benefits will be permanent, not fleeting. 

“It’s the legacies we help to shape that drive forth our very vision”

Carrie-Ann Huelin, Group Head of Social Value, ISG

We want to help our partners realise their brightest of ambitions, and we can operate as a partner at every step of their journey to share knowledge and experiences to facilitate innovation together. The trick to this is ultimate trust and transparency, and taking a case-by-case approach. Every project is unique, but knowledge and success are not there to be owned and should be shared and harvested to create economies of scale, multiplying value and returning a net gain to society.

We know the footprint of what we do extends beyond the delivery of the physical asset. 

The benefit of having diverse business units that connect us to every stage of a building’s lifecycle is our unique helicopter view on how to use each phase to maximise the impact potential of the asset. From investment, planning, design, construction, operation and decommissioning or repurposing stages, we no longer need to treat these phases as fragmented activities, instead we have the opportunity to be bolder in our ambitions, considering these as a holistic ecosystem of impact creation.
Indeed, to my mind, it’s only by revisiting a project and the intended beneficiaries and stakeholders of social value initiatives can we truly understand its success; and by asking how this has delivered on the goal of improving their quality of life we can truly explore the true outcomes and take any learnings forward.
In fact, I believe there’s many lessons we can learn from the rise of circularity principles at the heart of environmental performance that we can also apply to people. We need to think about true life-time value and how to retain this within social chains. We need to pave a pathway that ultimately leaves our communities and the world around us in a better place than if we choose not to act; and paying forward the knowledge we’ve gained over the last two decades is critical to allow the next generation to be guardians of their own future and for communities to keep the embers alive and keep paying it forward.


Find out more about ISG's approach to social value.

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