Social value? All you need to do is ASK.

Social value? All you need to do is ASK.

Posted 5th October 2021

Accessing the new dawn in social value – definition, democratisation and doing it. 

On the 24th September State of Life and Social Value UK were joined by Nancy Hey from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing and Paul Frijters from LSE for an event showcasing the new, July 2021, HM Treasury Green Book Supplementary Guidance on wellbeing and the new WELLBY measure.

Social Value UK members can view the recorded session in the Resource Library.

Here’s a few of the key points, questions that came up:

Context is all – social value defined. It is wellbeing. 

The speakers explained that the HM Treasury Green Book is considered the go-to for evaluation best practice of projects and policies. And the 2020 Green Book defines social value clearly:

2.3 Appraisal The appraisal of social value, also known as public value, is based on the principles and ideas of welfare economics and …therefore includes all significant costs and benefits that affect the welfare and wellbeing of the population, not just market effects. 

This has been a significant transformation of the last 10 years to put wellbeing at the centre of policy evaluation and social value rather than something considered interesting and experimental back in 2011.

Turning wellbeing theory into practice – the new 2021 HMT Supplementary Guidance on wellbeing.

With this shift to wellbeing as a central policy objective, the new, 2021 HMT Treasury supplementary guidance: wellbeing comes at an important time to help everyone better understand, apply and measure wellbeing.

As Nancy Hey explained – these are big theoretical questions on what makes our lives worth living. And this is why it’s important that the practical measurement of them becomes ‘democratised’ i.e. much more available, affordable and practical. Fortunately the 2021 Green Book has some excellent explanations, tools and advice.

Chapter 5 advises to ‘use validated measures that are consistent with existing measures’. Something State of Life has been doing for two years and both the What Works Centre for Wellbeing and State of Life offer banks of relevant survey questions and measures in line with the guidance.

A new unit of social value – the WELLBY. All you need to do is ASK.

A massive jump forward was explained by Paul Frijters – the WELLBY, a new open, transparent measure of wellbeing economic value. 

The WELLBY can be linked to the NHS measure of economic value – the QALY. This adds a whole new dimension of democratisation to social value (anyone can use it) and a credibility to NHS values.

And as Nancy made clear – to use the WELLBY all you need to do is ask. You just have to ask the people you work with about their life satisfaction (and other outcomes you think relevant) and to collect information on who they are, where they live and other relevant demographics. The good news is that the technology and methodologies are now making this much easier with State of Life leading the way. From a Social Value Principles perspective, involving stakeholders is an absolutely fundamental part of understanding, and measuring social value. 

The new Green Book guidance and social value banks

This is a new and fast moving area of policy and economics but the new 2021 Green Book supplementary guidance will help us all to define, understand and measure social value. And to do it credibly and robustly.

Social value banks have been around for a while and have served a useful purpose but can be problematic. There are crucial steps to measuring social value in line with the new guidance – the need to ask those you are working with, and are therefore affected, to reveal the impact of your project.

This step can be skipped all too easily with value banks, which is a big problem for the social value movement. The result is and will be that this important sector with the potential to create a more progressive society could start to lose credibility and trust. This risks  incentivising organisations to ‘play the value bank game’ rather than optimise the social value they create, or at the heart make people’s lives better! 

At times social value banks can fail the ‘sniff test’ that the new Treasury Guidance Chapter 5 spells out as good practise. All you have to do is ask (the people you help) and now, with the new Treasury 2021 Guidance: wellbeing – there is all the advice you need and the tools, technology and tips are available.

From guidance to practice

This is a big and crucial step forward for the social value movement.  The new guidance and a move towards acceptance of wellbeing as central to social value is hugely relevant but the putting this into practice could be even more important and challenging for us all.  

We will be exploring putting the guidance and the WELLBY into practice in the second part of our New Dawn in Wellbeing Valuation series on Friday 22nd October.  We will be hearing from organisations putting this in to practice, and exploring our own wellbeing valuation practice as a group.