Unlocking Social Value conference write-up

Social value from the bottom-up: Assessing local need

Social value is a popular term that’s receiving increasing interest from the built environment sector, yet many community organisations feel that it’s failing to deliver for local people.

Until recently, approaches to social value have been largely underpinned by top-down metrics with little understanding of local area needs. Many community organisations feel that new development in London is destroying social value.

Our conference workshop focused on approaching social value from the bottom up. With the help of facilitators who represented both community members and practitioners, we discussed practical ways to make social better meet local need.

Workshop facilitator Agnes Marsden Jeeves on meaningful engagement

How can social value be better?

There was a clear consensus that social value interventions must be grounded in participatory community engagement if they are to meet local need. Genuine community engagement will set residents up to be stewards of a place and ensure long-term impact.

  • Interventions need to make more effort to identify what social value already exists in an area and is valued by residents.
  • It’s useful to collaborate with residents to establish place-based social value objectives. Many community organisations don’t use the language of social value, and this language gap can hinder trust and a shared understanding of what’s being aimed for.
  • There’s a need to build in flexibility through frequent and continued community engagement. Events like COVID 19 transform patterns of living and resident needs in a short space of time.

What does good community engagement look like?

Many participants explained that community engagement methods must not simply take ideas from communities and instead lead to benefits for a local community.

  • With the wrong methods, consultation risks demanding time, expertise and emotional energy from community members whilst providing little reward.
  • Possible solutions included creative engagement through fun or educational activities, as well as methods that safeguard inclusivity by ensuring quieter voices are heard.
  • Some participants suggested that social value is created by the very process of community engagement, if involvement upskills residents and helps them understand what motivates them and their community.

Read Nina Burich’s blog on the workshop here
More conference write-ups here and our social value programme here

Two proposals for bottom-up social value

What would a people-centred approach to social value look like in practice? Here are two examples that were discussed at the workshop.

Community researchers:

  • Residents are trained to lead on engagement with their communities. They carry out social audits to map the richness of pre-existing community assets, networks and local economy.
  • Although resource intensive, there’s potential to fund this through partnerships, as demonstrated by UCL’s Citizen Science Academy.

Co-produced social impact assessments

  • Place-specific definitions of social value are co-created with residents, on a project by project basis. Building on existing social value audits, these help establish shared expectations and goals.


Good community engagement is necessary to create meaningful social value. It’s vital to ensure interventions support pre-existing social value to flourish, rather than destroying what’s already there.

Successful engagement methods create a ‘golden thread’ of social value, ensuring that interventions address local needs, even as they change over time. There’s scope for community engagement to create social value through the regeneration process, if residents are equipped with the skills and resources they need to take ownership of their own communities.

Workshop facilitators

  • Chair: Nina Burich, Mobilise
  • Lucy Atkinson, Sustrans
  • Robin Brown, Just Space
  • Marina Chang, UCL/ Calthorpe Community Garden
  • Clare Delmar, Listen to Locals
  • John Gleeson, Southern Housing
  • Sarah Goldzweig, Latin Elephant
  • Agnes Marsden Jeeves, LB Hammersmith & Fulham
  • Sem Lee, Forest Community Land Trust
  • Poorvi Mehta, Community board member
  • Nicholas Okwulu, Pempeople
  • Rosa Sulley, PRD
  • Joss Taylor, Bow Arts Trust

Find out more about our Unlocking Social Value research programme here.

Thanks to our programme sponsors Bouygues UK Countryside Partnerships Linkcity Mount Anvil Pollard Thomas Edwards Trowers & Hamlins and Yoo Capital.

Thanks to our conference sponsors Commonplace Lovell and Montagu Evans

Photo: xpgomes12 via FlickrSocial