Social value: how to make projects take on a life of their own

WSP’s Olivia White and Stephen Bray explore why delivering social value within the communities in which we operate is an important element of a successful infrastructure project.

Those living close to projects may find themselves walking past cordoned off areas on their way to school, worrying about the value of their home or how they will manage the impact of congestion from road works on their morning commute to work.

So, it’s important we help our clients find ways to add value when planning work, during delivery and beyond, helping embed the project within a community. This way, its value can be fully realised – and any potential problems headed off at the outset.

Building the relationships from the start

Providing meaningful value to a community starts by acknowledging that the overall value of an infrastructure project could amount to more than the benefits cited in the business case. It’s ensuring that the project team understands communities and makes them part of the process to encourage sustainable social value.

For example, by involving a community early within a project – through exhibitions and presentations, for example – you understand issues and address them, long before starting construction. This reduces the likelihood of conflict and mitigate project risk. Better project outcomes can be achieved by working with those who know the area, and by building and maintaining sustainable relationships with the local community, on behalf of both the contractor and the client organisation.

Young people in a community will eventually use and live alongside the infrastructure to a greater extent than other stakeholders, but are usually the people who are least likely to actively engage with any form of consultation. Working with schools can help encourage the understanding of young people about the project – the reasons for it, impacts and benefits, and it can give them access, on their terms to register their opinions and input to the project. This extends then further, to hosting STEM events, developing programmes such as the A9 Academy, partnering with schools and universities, and promoting industry apprenticeships.

Infrastructure projects can last a lifetime, quite literally. It therefore makes sense to get off to a good start by moving away from imposing infrastructure on people, towards making them part of the process. While our economy needs infrastructure to develop and grow, often people don’t want it on their doorstep. It can help to anticipate what people’s experience of your project is likely to be, so you can decide how to help, by mitigating the impacts, and maximising the benefits to the community.

More than a ‘nice to have’, social value is a requirement ...

Since 2013, all public bodies in England and Wales, including local authorities are required to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area.

Whilst the Public Services (Social Value) Act in England and Wales, and the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act provide the legal imperative for public sector procurements, the most successful way of delivering social value is embedding it in the culture of a project in congruence with its stakeholder engagement activity, being creative in seizing opportunities and ensuring the outcomes of these steps are measured.

WSP follows a seven-point approach to delivering social value to the communities where we operate. This includes developing skills in the workforce, creating local employment, supporting local communities and businesses, adopting in-house sustainability, designing with the local community, and creating local economic value.

Furthermore, by supporting local businesses by spending locally and paying fairly we can create local economic value that extends the project’s social value far beyond the delivery phase.

… for a good day at work

It’s good to help build positivity around a project so it comes to life within communities – and it’s up to everyone working on the project to make it happen. We can all be looking for opportunities to create it in the communities where we, and our friends and families, live and work. What’s stopping you?