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Stakeholder engagement: social value for dummies.


Last week, me and ten of my colleagues finished our Social Value Practitioner training level 1, with Social Value UK. It certainly got the cogs in my head turning and I am convinced that social value needs to take a front and centre role in the planning process. Let me explain why.

Although in its infancy, there is a huge misconception about what social value actually is. Some well-meaning Councils have adopted social value frameworks and given significant weight in procurement to social value calculations that weigh heavily in favour of job and apprenticeship creation. This is an important part of the social value story – but it’s not the only story that the sector should be telling.

What do local stakeholders say is the need locally? It could be jobs and training, but it could also be arts and culture, it could be access to green space and opportunities to improve physical and mental health or it could be community cohesion and safe places to gather. The latter two we know have jumped up the list of priorities since the pandemic. Jobs and apprenticeships are part of the DNA of the majority of development projects and it’s not good enough for the sector to use that as a way to tick the social value box. There is a lot more development can do to add social value to communities, and we should be rising to that challenge.

The first principle of social value is stakeholder engagement. It is stakeholders alone who should inform how and what gets measured. Stakeholder engagement has been embedded in the planning process for some time now and we are already having the important conversations with local stakeholders around planning. It is not difficult or costly therefore to shift the conversation to be about the changes they would like to experience in their lives, discussing their priorities and needs, and then work towards understanding how the project can influence that change.

Politicians in particular are motivated to deliver positive change, though definitions of that vary by political colour. However, framing the discussion around priorities sets the foundation for a much more powerful conversation than a discussion about, although important in policy terms, housing numbers generated by an algorithm or policy compliant levels of open space.

At Meeting Place, we are driven to use the built environment as a catalyst for positive change, addressing inequalities in society and now, more than ever, do we understand that knitting social value into the planning process is essential for delivering that change.

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