Don't be a saviour: What we're learning about Social Value

Chloe ShearmanContent, Social & PR ManagerHuckletree5/19/2022

You can be as well-intentioned as you like, if you embark on a social value mission without doing the foundational work, you’re going to fail. As ESG agendas rise to prominence, organisations are jumping on the bandwagon. Which is great, but do they really know what they’re doing? A question that we’ve recently forced ourselves to face.


A determination to do better is baked into Huckletree’s DNA and has been since we launched in 2014. Clerkenwell, our first hub, was the first in the industry to be awarded a Silver SKA rating. Last year, we launched Earthrise Summit, returning this year to gather thought-leaders to inspire action toward a more sustainable future. The Alpha Accelerator, currently in the ninth cohort, has seen over 50 pre-seed founders from underrepresented backgrounds supported on their journey to investment. And, our Fairer Funding Now campaign was launched with a mission to close the gendered funding gap.

We’re proud of what we’ve done, but it’s not enough. We’re also learning that the impact we have made, is tough to measure.

We had to accept that although sheer determination, a stellar ethos, and intention are great foundations for driving social value, they don’t really set you up for success in this profoundly complex mission. And so, last week, we called in the experts.

Chaired by Patrick Brown Head of ESG at Blackstock Consulting, the first of our social value roundtables was attended by true thought-leaders in the space: Kate Neale, Head of Sustainability at CadoganWesley Ankrah, Director of Social Value and Community Investment at Dominvs GroupKate Nottidge, Director of Social Impact, and James Manning, Senior Transformation Manager, at Grosvenor; and Joshua C., Head of Policy and Strategy at Blackstock Consulting.

The session was vibrant, and there’s no way we’ll cover it all in this piece, but we wanted to share with you ten of our key learnings. So that if you, too, have found yourselves contemplating where you can be doing better, you can start right now alongside us.


First, what does Social Value mean?

Let’s begin with a definition of Social Value. Defining Social Value is incredibly contested across the school of thought. So, we’re going to make it simple and take a definition from Social Value UK, a network changing the way the world accounts for value:

Social value quantifies the **relative importance that people place on the changes they experience in their lives. It's important to consider and measure this social value from the perspective of those affected by an organisation’s work.

To make this even more straightforward. Say you live next to a beautiful community park, you exercise there, so that park positively impacts your well-being. If someone were to ask you, “How much does the community park impact your well-being on a scale of 1-10?” you might score an 8. That’s you quantifying the social value of the park.


So, onto our ten key insights...


Accept right now that you’re not getting it all right

And that’s totally okay. In fact, it’s very beneficial. It gives you a place to start, one of the most challenging aspects of beginning a social value agenda.

If you know where you’re making a negative impact, you have a benchmark for where you could be doing better” - Wesley Ankrah, Dominvs


Do the groundwork to find your focus area

Social value is inherently fluid, making it challenging to identify where you want to channel your focus. A fundamental part of this process is ensuring that you do the groundwork. Start by looking at local policy. What’s of a core focus for policymakers right now? Research and discover what pertinent social challenges are being faced by the areas and identify the key themes. From this, you can establish three or four golden threads from which to build a framework for your social value mission.

It helps to find theories that you can anchor yourself in. Take Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics theory as an example. For those who are unfamiliar, Doughnut Economics lays out a theory best demonstrated in a diagram (see below). The hole in the middle is an area of deprivation, a space of shortfall where people don’t have access to what they need to meet the essentials of life such as education, food, and decent housing. We want to get people out of the middle and into the doughnut (the ring in the middle). However, we don’t want to be going behind the doughnut’s outer crust, because that’s a space of ecological overshoot, where we’re putting too much pressure on the Earth.

So, one route to take would be to look into what can you be doing in your organisation to ensure we’re operating in the middle ring part of Kate’s brilliant Doughnut Economics theory.



Invest in resource that specialises in social value

We’re seeing companies bring people on to lead their social value agendas who have very little experience in the field, which is okay if you invest in their training. If you can bring someone onto your team with a background specialising in social value, perfect. If not, it’s okay to invest in someone from within your team. In fact, we’d argue it’s better. Why? With more accredited social value specialists, the world can only become a better place. Here’s a link to some Social Value and SROI practitioner training.


Tell a story

Sometimes, stories are more important than numbers in a world full of data (and trust, we love data). At the end of the day, social value is about people. It’s about driving better experiences and a better quality of life. Yes, these can be measured numerically, but leverage the power of storytelling to make your impact come to life. What this does is not only drive you to continue to do more but also encourage other people to recognise the value. Telling this story publicly through PR also plays a role in keeping yourself accountable.


Dealing with objection

To quote Janette Sadik-Khan, former Transport Commissioner for NYC, “when you push the status quo, it pushes back, hard”. You can’t expect to embark on any social value project without some level of objection (especially in the built environment). In her book Street Fight, Janette Sadik-Khan speaks of the impact she made in her seven-year tenure: 400 miles of bike paths, seven rapid bus routes, and launched 70 plazas citywide – reclaiming 180 acres of former street space. The value that she drove for the city was profound, but it wasn’t without backlash or resistance.

Remember to equate that one letter of approval to twenty objections, so if you believe in your mission and someone else does too, keep the faith.

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Don’t overcomplicate the metrics

There’s a tendency in social value work to overcomplicate the measurement of value created. You hear many organisations talking about generating social value in metrics of millions, but what does that really mean? Social value, crucially, comes down to people’s happiness. It comes down to people’s emotional response to something. Start the measurement there. For example, measure your efforts around how people’s mental well-being has improved in relation to your initiatives.

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Be conscious of saviourism

Avoiding saviourism is perhaps one of the most important things to take away. Who are we to enter a community and tell them what they need? It’s crucial that as we embark on social value missions within a community, we keep residents at the very core. Listen, research, and identify all the stakeholders in a locality. And when we say listen, we mean really listen. Too often, organisations will hold a community engagement session once, and then the relationship ends there, and the community never hear from that organisation again. Then, before they know it, they’re altering their spaces. So, create meaningful relationships in the community and listen to what they need before making your assumptions.

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Social value makes you more attractive to talent

There’s a new generation influencing the workforce, and it’s one that cares, deeply. This next generation of talent wants to be working for companies driving true impact and value in their spaces of influence. Meaning and purpose are essential to them, and to attract this conscious wave of talent, you need to have a social value agenda.

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Getting buy-in

Perhaps the slightly more cynical side, but crucial to getting things over the line. If you struggle with buy-in from shareholders and execs, remember that social value makes business sense. It’s a facilitator for more money and will be one of your greatest investments. Beyond that, failure to get on board will hit you in the long run when greater regulation around corporate ESG and social value comes into play.

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Leave a legacy

As operators in the built environment, our spaces will be around for a while. It’s up to us to choose the legacy we leave. This was summed up well by Joshua Carson from Blackstock:

I think that's the binding point across everyone around this table. Everyone acknowledges that they leave a footprint, a legacy. Everything we do needs to be framed around stewardship, and the idea that we are leading communities and we’re here for hundreds of years, so we create this kind of cumulative impact. Eventually, we want to say that our net Social Responsibility is positive, which is now relevant for anyone. We now need to foster this sense of having your arms around everyone in your domain.”

So those are just ten key things that we learned (out of many, many insights) from this brilliant roundtable. As we continue on this journey, we commit to being as honest and authentic as we possibly can be. We will share with you our lessons as we learn them, and our mistakes as we make them. How are you going to drive your social value agenda forward?

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For accountability, and to inspire you, here’s our action list

  • As we build our social value action plan, we’ll be continuing to call in a diverse hive mind of thought-leaders in the space. This is crucial to unveiling where our blind spots are
  • We’ll be holding a focus group with Huckletree members to understand where we’re currently making an impact, and where there’s potential to be doing more
  • Then, within the next few months, we will be putting time and resource towards producing either a paper or an event, where we share our learnings and spark discussions around how we can all be driving social value
  • Communicating with our people to ensure understanding of the concept and inspiring them to integrate a value-driven mindset into their work
  • We will be undergoing an exercise of threading social value into our values and mission
  • Open communication with our members and the wider ecosystem about this journey is going to be standard practice
  • We’re going to be exploring ways for how we can measure and track our social value impact
  • Finally, we’re going to be keeping up a drumbeat of publishing our findings, learnings and insights as we continue on this journey

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You can access more insights from the innovation ecosystem by signing up for the monthly Huckletree newsletter.

Chloe Shearman

Chloe has both a way with words and an appetite for knowledge. She joins Huckletree from a background in the innovation ecosystem with brands such as Plus X and Central Research Laboratory. Previously a self-confessed craft beer nerd, she worked in experiential marketing with drinks industry domineers BrewDog. At the weekend, you’ll find her exploring London with her dog Lillie and getting cosy with a book.


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