7 September 2023 | Collaboration | Our Work

Measuring the impact of social value

In this feature, Rachael Atkin, Head of Social Value at Colas examines how the measurement of social value is changing as the industry becomes more mature in approach to social value, ten years on from its introduction to procurement.

Measuring the Impact of Social Value – Beyond the Numbers: A Construction Contractor’s Perspective
In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, where social responsibility holds increasing importance, the concept of social value has gained significant traction. No longer is success solely defined by financial proxy gains; rather, it is increasingly understood by a company’s positive contributions to the community and society at large. For construction contractors, understanding and quantifying this impact has become a crucial aspect of project evaluation and one that presents significant challenge. However, this goes beyond mere numerical metrics; contractors and local authorities now recognize the need to delve deeper into the qualitative aspects of social value to truly gauge their influence on the community.

The Multitude of Measuring Tools, the multitude of requirements:
As the appreciation for social value grows, contractors find themselves presented with a wealth of social value requirements and methodologies in procurement, and a wide variety of tools to measure and communicate their impact. Over the last few years, we at Colas, like many other contractors have seen that this toolbox has expanded considerably, offering us a diverse set of metrics and frameworks. This assortment acknowledges that impact is multifaceted. While economic figures remain crucial, they are no longer the sole focus. A sophisticated range of tools, including the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) reporting, Local Multiplier 3 (LM3), case study reporting, and customised measurement metrics, empower contractors to evaluate their projects through multiple lenses. These tools combine both qualitative and quantitative aspects, capturing a more comprehensive view of the value a project brings to a community.

Beyond the Numbers – Local Impact on the Community:
However, the path to effectively measuring social value is not without its challenges. Contractors and local authorities (LAs) are increasingly acknowledging the importance of evaluating the local impact of construction projects. While numerical figures offer a basic understanding and benchmarking methodology, they can fail to capture the nuanced ways in which projects influence the lives of individuals and communities. LAs often seek to assess how a project affects social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and overall quality of life. This requires a more complex way of measuring impact including engagement with stakeholders, conducting surveys, and gathering objective qualitative data through interviews and focus groups. By involving local residents, businesses, and organisations, contractors can gain a more profound insight into the true impact of their projects and the journey of the individuals, communities supported. This is leading to an evolution of the role of Social Value Managers, and like many other roles in our industry we are seeing a requirement for different skills for the future.

Gathering Objective Qualitative Data:
However, gathering objective qualitative data presents a significant challenge. Qualitative data, which hinges on personal experiences and opinions, can be inherently subjective. Ensuring objectivity and reducing bias in the data collection process is crucial for obtaining accurate insights into the societal impact of a project.

Navigating Value Measurement Variability:
Furthermore, value measurements can vary widely due to the complex and multifaceted nature of social value. While a sophisticated array of measurement tools exists, achieving consistency can be difficult due to the inherent variability in what is considered valuable across different contexts and stakeholder groups. This makes it challenging to know the expectations of measurement, where criteria may vary depending on the tools being used.

Gathering Case Studies:
Case studies play a pivotal role in showcasing the multifaceted impact of construction projects beyond just the numbers. These stories offer a narrative that connects statistics with real people and real experiences. To gather effective case studies, contractors need to take a proactive approach, some of the ways we have done this at Colas include:

1. Identify Key Stakeholders: Engage with local communities, businesses, and non profit organizations to identify potential case study subjects.
2. Diverse Representation: Ensure a diverse range of case study subjects to capture the broad spectrum of impact, from job creation to improved social cohesion.
3. Qualitative Data Collection: Conduct interviews, surveys, and focus groups to gather qualitative data that enriches the narrative of the case study.
4. Storytelling: Craft compelling narratives that highlight the journey, challenges, and successes of individuals or groups affected by the project.
5. Visual Documentation: Utilise photos, videos, and other multimedia elements to enhance the storytelling and provide a visual context.
6. Feedback Loop: Share the draft case studies with the subjects and stakeholders involved to ensure accuracy and authenticity.
7. Long-term Follow-up: Revisit case study subjects over time to track the lasting impact of the project and gather longitudinal data.

In conclusion, the endeavour to measure the impact of social value in the construction industry extends beyond the confines of numerical metrics. Certainly, we at Colas and likely other contractors as well as local authorities are increasingly interested in understanding the qualitative and local dimensions of a project’s influence on the community. By employing a combination of measurement tools and focusing on gathering objective qualitative data and compelling case studies, we can demonstrate their positive contributions in more depth and provide a comprehensive assessment of their social value impact. This not only enhances transparency but also contributes to building stronger relationships with communities and fostering sustainable future development.

LCRIG led webinar: Rebooting Social Value – 11 September 11am – 12pm – with live Q&A

Join us for our upcoming webinar event. Eleven years after the introduction of the Social Value Act in the UK, how far has the highways sector come in embedding social value and where do the challenges still lie?

These questions and more will be answered during the webinar which is being delivered by LCRIG in association with Colas, and which will look at the importance of delivering collaborative social value and the impact it can have on society.

Find out more and register here.