Social Value by Design

A simple concept to help embed Social Value into the hearts and minds of everyone involved in growing the economy.

A bit of preamble

Early in my sales career, I was introduced to quality management and learned that errors are cheaper and easier to fix the earlier they are found – whether “earlier” applies to time, the stage of a process or anything else. A nice, simple fact that it was easy to get my head around.

When I moved into selling IT application development services, my nice, simple fact turned up as a principle of software engineering. I learned that software bugs are cheaper and easier to fix the earlier they are found. I also learned that software design and continuous testing are critical to producing error-free code.

Fast forward a few years, enter the Internet and, along with it, the threat of people hacking into organisational and personal computers. The new world of cybersecurity opened, and I began selling cybersecurity solutions. I came across a strange phenomenon – in those early days, the security of many systems and the information they contained was often forgotten or, at best, bolted on as an afterthought. This seems crazy; surely it would be better to build security in from the get-go? I wasn’t wrong.

I was fortunate to work with some rather clever technical folk who understood something known as ‘Secure by Design’ – principles developed in the 1970s, which took on new importance as more and more systems got joined up across the tech universe.

Secure by Design means that security is thought about early in the software development process. Security requirements are gathered and analysed with equal importance as other requirements; they inform design decisions, which drive software development. In good software development, tests are designed in parallel with the requirements, so it is easy to check later that what you set out to achieve has been achieved.

So, what’s all this got to do with Social Value? Let me explain.

The rise of Social Value

Demand for companies to operate ethically, protect the environment and support local communities has been growing for decades. The movement has gathered pace in the last twenty years; key milestones include ESG (Environment, Social, Governance, 2004), the Social Value Act (2012) and the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (2016).

The construction industry was the first to get involved in delivering Social Value. Building tangible structures in actual places meant that environmental stewardship, local employment and consideration of the community were relevant, easy to understand and practical to implement. They were also straightforward to measure. Buyers and construction companies got used to dealing with Social Value in every project.

On 1st January 2021, the UK Government boosted the importance of Social Value in the public sector with the publication of Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 06/20 and associated models and guidance1. Social Value now commands a minimum of 10% in public sector tender evaluation. And, in parallel with the public sector, the private sector has been increasing its focus on ESG.

This means that today, all organisations – large and small, in every industry – need to understand and implement Social Value as a fundamental part of their organisational psyche. This brings us to Social Value by Design .

1Similar legislation exists in Scotland and Wales .

Social Value by Design

New concepts, such as Social Value, take time to become established, effective and routine. Sometimes, a simple model can help. Secure by Design helped many people understand that security was a fundamental foundation (not a bolt-on) to keep systems and information safe across the Internet. Social Value by Design could help many people understand that Social Value must be a fundamental foundation (not a bolt-on) of organisations and procurements for it to make a genuine difference on the ground. Figure 1 below offers my straw model for Social Value by Design.

Figure 1: Social Value by Design Consciously designing Social Value into every part of an organisation

Deconstructing the model

  • Be Organisation Ready: 
    Every organisation needs to design Social Value into its raison d'être. They need to reconsider their operating models, and commercial organisations need to look beyond pure profit. Strategies, policies and processes, marketing materials, sales playbooks and delivery protocols must all be revisited to reflect the organisation’s commitment to environmental, economic and societal good.   

  • Create cultural change: 
    Through ethical recruitment, induction, training and continuous nurturing, everyone can play a part in implementing the new operating model. Attitudes and behaviours will gradually change as Social Value seeps through the organisation.   

  • Prepare to buy: 
    Just like the security requirements are gathered and analysed early in a software development process to inform good design, organisations need to gather and analyse Social Value requirements early in a buying process to inform the tender and contract design. The business case for a purchase will include (in simple terms) what needs to be bought, why, for how much and for what return. Now it should include relevant and proportionate Social Value developed in collaboration with stakeholders from the buyer and supplier communities. Suppliers must learn to have Social Value conversations early in the procurement process to help shape the requirements.  

  • Tender responsibly: 
    Too often, Social Value requirements have not been designed or explained, so the tender documentation ends up with a couple of random Social Value questions tacked on to fulfil an obligation rather than procure genuine Social Value. Where Social Value requirements are clear, they can be thoughtfully translated into the procurement process in terms of questions and evaluation.  

  • Bid thoughtfully: 
    Too much time is spent wondering what the buyer expects and what it’s got to do with the contract in question. Faced with a clear picture of Social Value requirements and sensible questions to answer, suppliers will be equipped to focus on designing innovative and thoughtful ideas in collaboration with their supply chains to deliver true Social Value.  

  • Delivery collaboratively: 
    Once a contract is awarded, Social Value must not be forgotten as just a mandatory tender exercise. It needs to be designed into the contract through a detailed Social Value plan and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  

  • Measure Consistently: 
    Transparent and open measurement and reporting show strong accountability and commitment to improving organisational and contract performance. By continuously gathering and analysing metrics, organisations can make informed decisions, adjust Social Value initiatives and set new targets. Buyers and suppliers can check that the project-specific Social Value requirements and KPIs are being met.  

  • Improve Continuously: 
    Well-designed metrics will not only show success but also reveal patterns and trends that may indicate areas for improvement – enhancement, optimisation or complete change. Mature Social Value organisations will be ready and enthusiastic to re-enter the design process to constantly evolve and up their Social Value performance.  

Where now?

For now, I am floating an idea. I’ve been involved in Social Value for around seven years, and it took me a long time to really ‘get it’. I read a lot and gradually things fell into place, but I did find the “curse of knowledge” popping up regularly - understanding a subject so well that one can no longer appreciate or cater for those just beginning.

These days, I am regularly asked if I can spend an hour explaining Social Value to an organisation that is new to it or is struggling with it. As a sales and bid professional, not a Social Value expert, I give a layperson’s explanation. This invariably goes down well; I don’t yet suffer from “the curse of knowledge”. If an organisation needs further support and/or training, I signpost them to the Social Value professionals, knowing that they will at least have a clear baseline from which to engage.

Based on my experience, Social Value by Design has become my simple way of explaining it. I hope it has legs and goes on to become a useful model for others.


Content by Sarah Hinchliffe

Director - i4 Consultancy and Design Ltd

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