Published: November 2020
In a world-first, we’ve now published a standard on social value that’s designed to help organizations understand and enhance theirs. But what does that mean and why does it matter? This blog post attempts to explain more.
In 2012, the UK enacted the Public Services (Social Value) Act. This was the first piece of UK legislation on “social value”, a concept that it defines as “the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the relevant area”. In 2017, the UK Act was followed by the adoption of the European Commission’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive, which includes provisions for large companies to provide information on their “impact”.
These pieces of legislation reflected, rather than inspired, a growing interest in social value that has its roots in our collective perception that the systemic threats to people’s wellbeing are increasing (e.g. climate change, inequality and now global pandemics).
It follows that, more than ever, organizations now need to understand how their decisions and activities affect personal and collective wellbeing over the long and short term, in other words: their role in relation to social value. To provide some structured help with that, we’ve now produced BS 8950:2020 Social value. Understanding and enhancing. Guide – the first standard of its kind addressing social value in organizations.
Increasingly, as well, in an era of digital transparency, ‘net social value’ is something commercial organizations are striving for as they face more scrutiny of the positive impacts they claim to create. They can see it makes business sense and can now build business cases for it.
All organizations, not just those affected by the Social Value Act, can use this standard as a lens and tool, to consider how they can better serve the communities in which they operate in ways that also bring value to the organization itself. This is the overall aim of this standard.
Understand, preserve and enhance
BS 8950:2020 aims to help organizations of any type or size, in any sector, to understand, preserve and enhance their social value. It outlines principles to help orgs recognize, account for and report on social value. It does this by helping them to identify and use appropriate data for making judgments about what matters, collecting and analysing data to consider options and identifying and including stakeholders. It also outlines a framework for assessing and enhancing social value. To avoid reinventing the wheel, it builds on and links to existing principles and frameworks.
Why should organizations use the standard?
The standard defines social value as ‘wellbeing (human) in the short and long term’. It will help them understand the role they can play and how they can go about enhancing value for their employees, customers and communities. It explains how they can measure, account for and identify the benefits of social value, irrespective of how little data or maturity in this area that the organization already has.
Directed at decision makers and practitioners
The standard is directed at those within an organization whose decisions affect the communities it serves, including members of the ‘C’ suite; sustainability and CSR managers and directors; innovation and strategy managers; and bid managers. Other interested users will include ESG investors, areas of government, and because of the 2012 Act, UK local authorities.
Social value is increasingly understood as being a key part of organizations’ sustainability agendas. In particular, organizations that are already showing sustainability and social responsibility leadership are expected to want to engage with this new standard as it represents another way to improve how they do business and the positive impacts they create. It will chime in particular with purpose-driven organizations.
And it very much doesn’t exclude SMEs. On the contrary the standard could well present an opportunity for them to recognize and enhance what they’re doing already, as they’re very often much closer to, and integrated within, their local communities.
BS 8950 can help open market opportunities, for instance to become a supplier of choice; and to remain or become an organization that people want to work for, buy from or use. It will help organizations find better and smarter ways of delivering social value, benefit from the positive impacts to their business and to their communities and help them contribute to global targets such as the UN SDGs.
A new mood of accountability is evident these days, extending from the most hard-nosed parts of the investment sector to the most benign NGOs. Social value is being considered and appreciated like never, so it looks as though the arrival of this new standard couldn’t be timelier.