Driving Social Value

Driving Social Value

Posted 13th June 2019

All members of Social Value UK are welcome and encouraged to contribute to our blog in whatever way possible. Today’s blog comes from our member Tom at ENGIE UK.


I’m Social Impact Manager for ENGIE UK, an energy, services and regeneration company employing around 17,000 people in the UK, with a purpose to improve lives through better living and working environments.

I’ve been working in the field of social value / impact now for just over 3 years, so I wouldn’t describe myself as an expert per se, but have a fair bit of experience I think. In my time working in this area there have been some huge steps forwards in general understanding, policy, measurement, and everything related to social value. But there is one thing that still frustrates me which is that we still seem to have so many conversations about defining and measuring it. So, at the risk of sounding a hypocrite I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of my personal thoughts on why, and how we can move forwards.

At the heart of why, I think, is a simple truth. Social Value is not as tangible as say, financial value! It’s about improving wellbeing of people. It’s easy to get hung up on definition, and measurement of wellbeing can be daunting, but there’s no need to be.

Social Value is about improving people’s lives- maximising positive changes and minimising negatives.There’s a lot happening in the world – there’s so much we want to and can change and the only reason you’re reading this, I presume, is because you care and wish to be accountable for the change you create but somehow people can lose sight of the objective to improve people’s lives by getting tied up in knots with definitions and measurement, and particularly the pressure to prove their worth. So, my first message is stay focussed on making as much of a positive difference as you can with the resources you have.

To make a difference, you need to understand what is important to people and how you can contribute to this. To me, social value starts with a very simple process: identify what needs changing, understand the root causes of the challenge or issue and identify what needs to be done about it. Easy eh!? Well no not quite, it’s easier said than done but it’s certainly achievable and can be over-complicated. And yes, to do this you will need to speak to people.

This has two great advantages: 1) I think this is just a strategy, setting out how you will achieve something based on understanding why and how and 2) if you’ve identified the needs and root causes then you’ve also identified what to measure (see Theory of Change and Questions 1 and 2 on this page.)

If social value is simply about making as much of a positive difference as we can, then the reason we measure is to understand if it’s working. So, when it comes to measurement we have to stay focused on understanding what difference we’ve made. Again I think this is remarkably simple and means speaking to people. It also means being open to hearing about any negative changes too, so that we can manage the difference we’re making. Quantitative indicators and proxies play a role – but they have to be relevant and work for you in your context.

Scale is also important. Your measures of success must be appropriate to the scale of impact you’re aiming for. For a relatively small fitness programme then understanding if you’ve improved people’s health is right, but at the other end of the spectrum trying to make a change on a regional level then we have to move towards outcome and impact measures. Is this easy? Absolutely not! But if we and all the other providers of services to a council recruit X apprentices every year without any tangible impact on social mobility, inequality, unemployment rate etc then something isn’t working! If I can be excused a slightly leftfield example from The Simpsons of all places, there’s that episode when Lisa gets a doll manufacturer to make a less sexist doll, so they produce hundreds and sell just one. Lisa is delighted and says if just one person has bought the doll then it was all worthwhile, to which the manufacturer (sarcastically) replies “kudos to you Lisa, kudos”. OK it’s a slightly different context but I hope you get my point.

This comes onto my main observation – this requires collaboration. If we’re genuinely going to have an impact on that larger, regional, scale – particularly bearing in mind all the various issues we face – we are only going to do this through collaboration between all organisations of all sizes. Not just on delivery and solutions, but also on engaging communities putting them at the centre, understanding the role everyone can play, data collection & measurement etc. Combine the resource, skills, expertise, technology and insight of communities, VCSEs, councils, government, education & health services and the private sector and, well, the possibilities…

And to achieve collaboration perhaps we need a little less competition and a little more honesty. I don’t know if this is controversial or not, but fundamentally it just seems odd that, if we all want to make a positive difference, we compete on it!? Competition can be a force for good, but it can also drive the wrong behaviours. We need more honesty and transparency about what works and what doesn’t. We therefore need to create the environment where we can be honest and transparent.

So that’s my call for action. To conclude I’ll say two things: firstly a lot of what I’ve said is happening or starting to, but we need more of it. And secondly, all I’ve done here is put the 7 Principles of Social Value in other words. All of that just to say what’s already been said, but they exist for a reason.

If you want to discuss any of this in more detail, whether you agree or not, feel free to contact me on [email protected].

Learn more about ENGIE UK here.

If you’re interested in contributing to the Social Value UK blog, please get in touch with David here.