Social Value Research Forum

As more built environment organisations seek to develop social value policies, the pool of research and toolkits to guide this work is growing.

Future of London’s Social Value Research Forum invited experts involved in practical social value research and toolkits to showcase their projects and offer insight into future directions for social value. The event was part of FoL’s Social Value project and was hosted by Trowers & Hamlins.

Vanessa Pilla, General Manager, Socioeconomic Development at Lendlease, kindly chaired the event, bringing expertise from her involvement in Lendlease’s work with Simetrica which is developing the organisation’s social value goals.

Summaries of the research and toolkits presented are below, followed by highlights from the presentations and Q&A on future directions for social value.

Jump to:

Research, methodologies and toolkits

Trowers & Hamlins: Highly Valued, Hard to Value

Sara Bailey, Managing Partner, Head of Real Estate at Trowers & Hamlins, welcomed attendees to the event. As legal advisors on major regeneration schemes, Trowers & Hamlins encourages clients to think about the ‘societal value’ – value to society as a whole – of development.

In 2016, Trowers & Hamlins worked with Oxford Brookes on Highly Valued, Hard to Value: Towards an integrated measurement of real estate development. The report intended to understand how the built environment impacts people’s daily lives – and how to measure this. Recommendations included refining planning policy to specify appropriate social value metrics, improvements to valuation methods, and introducing more qualitative metrics.

Real Worth: The Real Value Report

A follow-up piece to Highly Valued, the Real Value Report offers a methodology for assessing societal value of development. Director Prof Erik Bichard explained that people’s experiences of the built environment are the crux of societal value – but research found conventional methods for valuing real estate and property tend to undervalue or overlook the impact of development on people.

The research included practitioner interviews, which suggested that schemes creating societal value can produce higher financial returns – but more work is needed to quantify this. It also recommended improving techniques to understand how people feel about the built environment.

societal value scorecard
The Real Value Report contains a scorecard to survey people’s wellbeing in a place. It accounts for both positive and negative experiences to give an overall net impact of a place on its users.

Social Enterprise UK: Front and Centre

In spring 2019, Social Enterprise UK published Front and Centre: Putting social value at the heart of inclusive growth, following a series of surveys with local authority officers and councillors throughout England.

The survey found that between 74% and 80% of local authority staff reported a good understanding of the Social Value Act, but only 46% of councillors said the same – and only 4% of councils offer a ‘social value induction’ for councillors. It also collected feedback on frameworks like TOMs, responsibility and culture relating to social value, and measurement challenges.

The report was sponsored by ENGIE, among others. Kimberly Taylor, Responsible Business Manager, explained that understanding social value is important for ENGIE’s work in energy, regeneration, construction and facilities management. The company sees opportunities to maximise social value in long-term facilities contracts with local authorities and by integrating SMEs and social enterprises into supply chains in line with ISO 20400 standards.

Constructing Excellence

Constructing Excellence, a membership organisation for the construction sector, operates a social value working group, chaired by Rob Wolfe, director of CHY. He’s led a stock take of information relating to social value in the built environment and how CE members are engaging with the topic.

Assessment to date has found the industry has made good progress embedding social value in areas like supply chains and environment and is getting better at accounting for the social value of design. What’s lacking is understanding of opportunities within the legacy of a building after construction and how building managers and occupiers can deliver ongoing social value.

Improving Social Value in the Construction Industry

The Institute of Economic Development encourages organisations to deliver social value as an economic development activity. Often measured in terms of GDP, economic development should also improve human welfare. The IED recently started its own research into construction, intended to better understand how – and how far – social value is delivered through supply chains and procurement.

Maria Vitale, Senior City Economics Consultant at Arup (one of the research partners) outlined research questions and encouraged organisations to get involved by completing the appropriate survey:

The Social Value Portal & National TOMs

The Social Value Portal is a tool which allows organisations to set and measure social value outcomes. Agnese Mizia, Head of Research, discussed the National TOMs (themes, outcomes and measures) framework. Launched in November 2017 after 18 months of cross-sector consultation, TOMs has 35 indicators to capture social value. Each indicator is linked to a financial value and users can select relevant TOMs according to local priorities and compare outcomes at a regional or national level.

The Portal and TOMs are regularly updated based on surveys and feedback. For example, the Portal team recently developed a real estate plugin to account for the full development cycle and post-completion life of a building. The latest survey is currently open to existing Portal users and other interested parties.

The Social Impact of Regeneration

Developed in partnership with the University of Reading, Social Life’s surveys into the social impact of regeneration consider how residents feel about amenities and infrastructure as well as social aspects of their community like inclusion, networks, cultural life, and influence.

Nicola Bacon, Director of Social Life, said most questions have been adapted from nationally recognised surveys to allow for benchmarking and comparison. Surveys are conducted with residents of both pre- and post-construction parts of the estate as well as neighbourhoods next to the regeneration area, providing localised benchmarking and assessing wider impacts of regeneration and community integration. This approach is being used in South Acton, where surveys every two to three years are building a long-term picture of regeneration impacts.

Unlocking the Social Value of Design

Responding to a research gap on the social value of good housing design, the University of Reading and project partners are working on a toolkit to fill this need. Flora Samuel, Professor of Architecture and VP Research at RIBA, outlined the workshops and roundtables taking place to support the work, which have generated a series of post-occupancy questions. Some indicators have been taken from HACT’s social value bank, and consultees have generally agreed that questions should focus on qualitative aspects of how users experience buildings.

The project builds on Design Value at the Neighbourhood Scale, a 2018 report by CACHE.

social value research forum

Where next for social value?

The presentations and Q&A highlighted several areas ripe for further research and better understanding.

Quantity to quality

Actors across the board are moving from purely quantitative measurement towards qualitative outcomes (for example, instead of only counting the number of apprenticeships delivered, also assessing the quality of those apprenticeships in terms of skills gained and long-term employment after development). Even the Treasury is adopting socio-economic indicators rather than focusing solely on cost-benefit ratios and market analyses.

But monitoring and measuring needs quality control (e.g. so apprentices on site for just one day aren’t counted as social value), ideally from an independent source. Rob Wolfe suggested replicated the independent Teacher Tapp app for construction workers, which would use short daily surveys to track employees’ wellbeing. He also encouraged more transparency, such as a ‘league table’ showing supplier performance, as proposed for LB Barking & Dagenham’s BeFirst development company.

For this to happen, commissioning organisations need to stipulate long-term monitoring in contracts.

Other areas for more qualitative work are understanding impacts on different demographics and accounting for negative impacts of schemes in social value measurement.

Post-completion social value

Social value shouldn’t stop once construction finishes. There’s incredible potential for post-completion social value, but this is being squandered: Flora Samuels revealed that only around 3% of buildings have post-occupancy evaluations. Methodologies like those developed by Social Life and the University of Reading can help address this. Building occupiers could also deliver social value, if compelled through tenancies or long-term agreements with councils or site owners.

Social value can also be created pre-construction, such as through co-design.

Data, data everywhere

With so many metrics available to measure, deciding what to measure is its own challenge. “We are data rich and knowledge poor,” noted Rob Wolfe. “We need to use what data we have better.” This could mean using a small selection of metrics clearly linked to local priorities; making more use of open data; and if new data sources are needed, clearly outlining their benefits and applications.




Let us know if you have relevant, free of charge research, methodologies, or toolkits to add.

Construction Leadership Council, Procuring for Value (2018)
HACT Social Value Bank
Real Worth, The Real Value Report (2018)
Social Enterprise UK, Front and Centre: Putting social value at the heart of inclusive growth (2019)
The Social Value Portal
Trowers & Hamlins, Highly Valued, Hard to Value: Towards an integrated measurement of real estate development (2016)
UKGBC, Social value in new development (2018)
UKGBC, Driving social value in new development: Options for local authorities (2019)