Category Archives: Social value

Making social accounting relevant for you….

If nothing else, the Social Value Act has led to an explosion in the number of ‘tools’ to measure social value…

Social Value UK offers 36 online tools and software to help people like you and me use in accounting for and reporting on social value. The Social Value Hub, hosted by Social Enterprise UK, includes a vast range of tools, case studies and advice about measuring social value and the Inspiring Impact programme has many similar resources available. Continue reading Making social accounting relevant for you….

Social accounting should be about good organisational practice, not just a tool for measuring social value…

In his recent blog for the Social Audit Network (SAN), Alan Kay sent out a rallying cry to the social economy:

‘I think that social enterprises should be looking seriously and overtly at the degree to which they contribute to social capital.  This would mean putting in place how they build trust between people and organisations; how they encourage reciprocal working and mutuality; how they state and then live up to their values; how they support a commitment to a community and a sense of belonging; and how they actively create connectedness through informal and formal social networks. Continue reading Social accounting should be about good organisational practice, not just a tool for measuring social value…

Are we really creating ‘value’ and how do we know?

I attended two events recently and both got me thinking about the question in the title of this blog.

One was a seminar led by Stephen Osborne which examined the ‘value’ created by public services.  The other was the Social Audit Network (SAN) Annual Gathering.

Stephen Osborne is an esteemed and well-regarded academic at the University of Edinburgh Business School and has written extensively on public services.  He was speaking at Glasgow Caledonian University and three things struck me about his talk and the subsequent discussion.

The first was that delivering services in response to public needs requires a quite different approach from running a business that sells products. Apparently, legislation states that public sector organisations have a duty to respond to ‘need’ in the population. Some discharge this by delivering services, others commission or buy the services from others.

The key point is that the public sector must address ‘need’ which is evidenced in the population rather than creating demand for a service or product. In any case, the delivery of the service should use a ‘different business logic’ which is dependent on the co-operation and trust of citizens.  This working together and collusion is about adding value and positive change for citizens – in terms of meeting the needs, improving people’s quality of life, creating capacity within the community and generally making a better society.

The second was that public service delivery has fundamentally different values and a different end-game in comparison to running an enterprise.   The delivery can use business management methods to improve internal systems, but it is essentially quite a different animal with a different set of values.  This possibly has implications for social and community enterprises that also address social needs – they may need to look at their values as well as their financial bottom line.

The third relates to the discussion following the presentation, where there was a debate on accountability and the need to track, measure and report on whether or not the public service delivery was actually achieving its goals.  The verbal exchanges recognised that tangible and often measurable indicators can be used to explain what has been delivered and to what effect, however, the less tangible, outcomes in terms of happiness, confidence and self-esteem are harder to account for.

Osbourne said that these highly important factors require a more investigative approach and one that often is inevitably more time-consuming and more expensive.  It is interesting, in passing, that many local authorities have not re-instated previously abolished national performance measures – mainly due to cost.  There would seem to be an opportunity to set local and meaningful targets on ‘social impact’ which is happening in Salford and reportedly across Greater Manchester as part of the devolution agreement.

The SAN Gathering was held in Liverpool on 20th October and was in two parts.

The morning looked at the basis of social accounting and audit and a number of case studies were presented which examined things that had worked well and others that were more of a challenge.  There appeared to be a general consensus that regular reporting on the change that happens as a result of what a social or community enterprise does, is a good thing.

The afternoon concentrated on how we can believe what is contained in social reports.

An increasing number of annual social reports are being written by a wide range of organisations – from the small community-based enterprises running lunch clubs to the mega-corporate bodies providing a range of social services – both often under contract to, or at least working alongside, the public sector.  With more and more organisations being contracted to deliver services for citizens in our society – how do we know they are doing a good job?

Looking at unsubstantiated and unverified social reports makes me concerned that self-reporting as advocated by approaches such as social accounting, may descend into purely marketing exercises.  There must be some kind of ‘audit’ of social reporting to ensure faith in, and the rounded integrity of, social reports.

Over many years SAN has worked with social, voluntary and community organisations in developing a ‘social audit process’ where qualified SAN social auditors chair a Panel meeting which is a learning and supportive process as well as providing rigorous and robust scrutiny of an organisation’s social report.

The afternoon session at the Gathering also considered standards for audit processes and in particular, the forthcoming BSI standards for social value assessment reports were mentioned.  This has to be welcomed as a way of ensuring that social organisations are not pedalling ‘fake news’.

A nagging concern, however, is that standards will be created by umbrella bodies without the active involvement of organisations on the ground – things will be done to people and grassroots organisations rather than with them.  In applying national standards across the board, there is a significant danger of turning the ‘social audit’ into yet another tick-box compliance exercise, especially if it is controlled by a national standards institute.

In conclusion, I want to tie these two events together as in my mind there would appear to be common threads.

  • ‘Value’ for society is being created, but as a society, we need to be able to track it and in doing so, we need to see the degree of value created and how to improve on it, thus being as effective as possible.
  • Self-reporting is the only practical way of tracking change created by the expanding plethora of different organisations that soon will be delivering all sorts of public services – either off their own bat or on contract to the public sector.
  • We, the public, need to have faith in the social reports and one way of creating this is to insist on some form of ‘social audit’.
  • Standards have to be established for the ‘social audit’ to ensure a procedural uniformity – but those standards should not be created in a vacuum but in some form of co-creation with social and community organisations. Thus, ensuring that they are understandable, transparent and trustworthy – and perhaps there is an opportunity to recognise the context with local measures.

Finally, there would appear to be a considerable degree of consensus within the public and social sectors on the need for social reporting – not only of the tangible but also the intangible.

There is wide recognition that there has to be some form of check or audit to ensure that reality is reflected in the reporting.

My plea is that in setting social audit standards they are not too complicated but are understandable and accessible (in all its meanings).  Only that way will they become accepted and adopted by all.

Alan Kay – Social Audit Network (SAN) www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk

 

Social Impact reporting – ‘truth’ or ‘covfefe’ ….

One of the key dangers facing society is the lack of trust and belief in experts, in government and in one of the cornerstones of Enlightenment thought; verifiable facts

(Gavin Esler, 2017 Magnusson Lecture, Wigtown Book Festival)

Esler summarised succinctly in his lecture the ‘trust gap’ between reality and media, both in the US and here in the UK. What can really be relied upon to be ‘good news’ and what is ‘fake news’ made up to strengthen a point, cover up failings, or stir up feelings, for example?

And the same is true in the social economy sector in social impact reporting….

‘Social Value’ and ‘Responsible Business’ practices are increasingly popular across all sectors with the number of social value accounts, social impact reports, community accounts and so on being published every day on the increase (I know; I wrote one of them for Salford City Council recently).

So how do we know whether the ‘social impact’ we are reading about is truth or ‘covfefe’, (as Donald Trump put it recently)?

‘Despite the constant negative press covfefe’ (Donald J. Trump (TWITTER @realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017) Continue reading Social Impact reporting – ‘truth’ or ‘covfefe’ ….

Social Value – why are we forgetting the planet?

The increasing interest in ‘social value’ has led to an expansion of the social economy, big corporates rushing to show their ethical credentials and public sector organisations publishing their policies and new procurement strategies for social impact…

But a swift review of these actions shows a worrying trend – we are starting to overlook the environment.

In England and Wales, the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires public bodies to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area.

What is not widely known is that social value originated in response to environmental sustainability policy and practice. Indeed, in construction, the concept of sustainability has been ‘business as usual’ for many years.

I believe that in 2017 there is now a pressing need to focus on the places where people live, the environment around us and the resources that we use. Increasing population causes waste, uses natural resources and creates global warming…. Whilst politicians pull away from arguably ineffectual climate change agreements, the impacts of human activity on our planet and people expand in scale and depth.

We have already seen global warming rising by over 1 degree, and climate change is now leading to increasingly severe impacts – from rapidly melting sea ice at the poles and 50-degree heatwaves in India, to floods in Bangladesh and drought in California. The UK is seeing dramatic impacts too – with severe flooding in almost every region and country in the UK in recent years[1].

In Manchester air pollution causes over 1,000 premature deaths each year[2]. Local authorities spend billions of pounds each year dealing with waste. Fly tipping is on the increase. Energy costs are spiralling. Green belt land is being sacrificed to build homes…

I originally trained as a landscape architect and learned about how to create a ‘genius loci’. Gardeners such as Capability Brown created spaces where people wanted to be and felt happy; a sense of place that makes people feel good. It’s not really surprising that the happiest place to live in the UK is the Outer Hebrides.[3] Away from all that pollution so common on the mainland, in a beautiful landscape, with renewable energy schemes and pride in the local environment. But even this idyllic life is under threat from sea level rise.

So, if our planet is suffering, and our people’s health and wellbeing is at risk; how can we reverse the trend of ‘social value’ being only about jobs, training and doing local business? (Surely these are really economic factors anyway?)

Instead of ‘socio-economic’, should we be thinking about ‘socio-environmental’? We may be helping people to access employment, but are they physically and mentally healthy enough to stay in these jobs?

Perhaps it’s time for a renewed look at ‘think global, act local’ – many little things done near to home can make a difference. But we now need more of the difference to be made closer to home as well as for our planet.

If ‘social value’ must include environmental benefits – as the legislation states – then using the Social Audit Network’s www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk social accounting methodology is one way to prove the positive benefit that you can have on the environment; to manage and improve your performance; and be accountable for this to your stakeholders – and the planet.

SAN resources include a simple ‘green office checklist’ and tips on how to calculate your carbon footprint. There are many simple online tools available for tracking environmental measures.

Being accountable for environmental measures is a compulsory element of the SAN methodology. We have been challenged for this. Why should an organisation which is set up for a purpose such as providing training opportunities for young people have to report on its environmental impact?

The answer is because the organisation might use natural resources and energy, create waste or pollutants, employ staff who travel; and because those young people might be living shorter lives affected by air pollution, in an unpleasant and dirty neighbourhood, unable to afford to heat their homes. AND because we are heading for a climatic emergency – over 3 degrees warming – and we all will need to do everything that we can to protect humanity from catastrophic levels of climate change.

Anne Lythgoe, Social Audit Network – info@socialauditnetwork.org

[1] Friends of the Earth 2017

[2] Public Health England 2015

[3] Office for National Statistics 2016

Are social enterprises creating white elephants?

Legend has it that the King of Siam once gave rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, that they might be ruined by the animals’ upkeep costs.

These days, the term ‘white elephant’ more often refers to an extravagant but useless gift that cannot be easily disposed of or serves little purpose, or perhaps a beautiful but functionless building that nobody visits….

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a conference for social enterprise organisations. I work in local government, so I talked about how commissioners of public services are increasingly looking for the ‘social value’ which a business in the social economy might bring. I was followed by three speakers from the private sector, all of whom had committed to ‘buy social’ and include social enterprises in their supply chains.

A group of local social enterprises spoke about their good work and the social impact that they were creating through activities ranging from support for people with mental health problems, disabled young people being able to visit the beach, to training for families to eat healthily and take more exercise.

All valuable and necessary goals in local communities.

After the conference, one of my private sector colleagues confided in me that he was struggling to purchase from social enterprises because they just didn’t sell the things that his company needed to buy…

And I thought about my own experience of public sector commissioning and how few of our contracts are placed directly with social enterprises (despite my employer having put a great deal of effort into trying to do so).

So, what is going wrong? Why are some social enterprises more successful than others?

Although the private and public sectors often want to buy goods and services from organisations with a social purpose, perhaps they can’t directly buy the social value or social impact that those organisations are keen to sell? Buyers want to purchase a product and get the social value ‘added’?

Maybe the social enterprises that ARE successful have found a way to sell products which by their very nature create social impact? Maybe they understand their market as well as their social value?

NMC Design and Print is an enterprise linked to the Neuro Muscular Centre in Winsford, Cheshire. NMC has used its social accounting http://www.nmcentre.com/nmc/about-us/social-accounts/ to engage with its market and create a commercially successful social enterprise providing a Design and Print service run by, and employing, designers with muscular dystrophy.

The products that they are selling include graphic design, other digital services and printing. The ‘social value’ comes with the fact that people with muscular dystrophy, who would otherwise struggle to find employment, provide these services.

NMC knows and engages with its market, understands its social value and has expanded rapidly.

See Detail is a company that makes the best use of the skills of the staff to provide services that are exceptional and rewarding for everyone.  In addition, they provide autism awareness training to the companies and organisations that they work with, and finally they are lifting people out of the, so-called benefits trap, and making a real contribution to society both in terms of wealth generation and in innovation and creativity.  See Detail’s main business is software testing  which people on the autistic spectrum are ideally suited.

Both NMC Design and Print and See Detail have managed to combine their business model and their social impact to create a commercially successful social enterprise. They have ‘packaged’ their social value for their own specific market. Sadly, many ‘social enterprises’ that I come across have not managed to do that.

Instead, social value dominates their purpose. This might be too specific or on too small a scale to be beneficial to prospective customers and the ‘enterprise’ ceases to be viable. A ‘beast’ is created which is valuable to a discrete group and often outwardly impressive but which is impossible to sustain and not really wanted by those with the means to pay for it.

So, my ‘take-away’ messages to social enterprises everywhere are;

  • don’t create white elephants, when dull looking, grey beasts are often stronger and more successful;
  • use tools like social accounting and audit to engage with your market, and
  • be very careful in the presence of Kings….

Anne Lythgoe

SAN Vice- Chair