‘Social Value Commissioning’ by Toby Blume, co-author of ‘Social Value: A Commissioning Framework. Part 1: Lessons from Lambeth’

Yesterday Collaborate and the Transition Institute published a new report, Social Value: A Commissioning Framework. Part 1: Lessons from Lambeth, that I have written together with my Lambeth Council colleague Anna Randle. The report is intended to add to the growing body of thought and interest in social value and help move things forward.

In the report we suggest how we think social value can be implemented in a practical way by a public body, within the context of commissioning, spending cuts and rising demand on public services. It is based on our experience, research and aspirations at Lambeth to be a Cooperative Council.

Lots has been said about social value and what it is and there is a great deal of interest in it, particularly within the public sector and the not for profit sector. There is also a great deal of confusion. Many local authorities are grappling with the practicalities of actually taking account of social, environmental and economic value in commissioning and procurement decisions, as they are now required to do under the Public Service (Social Value) Act 2012.

At present too much of the debate about social value is focussed on procurement, social clauses in contracts and approaches that attach monetary value to everything. Social value is still seen by many as being an additional expense the public sector must absorb in taking account of environmental and social benefits and costs.

Whilst all these things may well be part of an effective strategy to reflect social value in investment decisions, they are by no means the whole picture. Anna and I argue that social value is far more than this narrow interpretation. For us social value is about:

  • Commissioning a broad range of outcomes
  • Recognising and responding to community assets and the needs and aspirations of local people
  • Fundamental transformation of how we work – whole system change
  • Acknowledging and understanding the connections and tensions between priorities
  • Becoming more sophisticated in how we measure the difference our investment decisions make

Fundamentally, social value is about securing maximum impact on local priorities from the use of public resources.

The implications of our interpretation of social value on how local authorities act is potentially profound. We go on to suggest a range of practical and conceptual steps that councils can adopt in order to realise this:

  • By framing social value in terms of the changes that the community and its elected representatives want to see.
  • By recognising community assets and the contribution local people can make to achieving the changes they value.
  • Developing a common outcomes framework which is applied consistently across the whole organisation.
  • Establishing an agreed sequence or priority order to corporate outcomes – acknowledging we can’t have everything we want all at once.
  • Using Theory of Change or logic models to set out the path by which we see change happening – from inputs to activities and outputs, through to outcomes and impact.
  • Using Social Value Procurement Frameworks, but only as a stepping stone towards more fundamental change.
  • Considering additionality and developing cost effective strategies to assess the degree to which demonstrable impact can be attributed directly to our own activity and investment decisions.
  • Being prepared to abandon redundant metrics that only help us measure outputs.
  • Considering the ways in which the council may need to change to support social value commissioning, recognising practice that is at odds with realis­ing local priorities and considering ways to redesign the system to be more supportive.

We are not suggesting that we yet have all the answers to realise our ambitions to deliver social value commissioning, or that it will be an easy path to achieving this. However we hope that with this report we can help expand the extent of people’s aspirations and expectation of what social value means. If we can do that, then there is a real prospect of public funds being used more efficiently to deliver outcomes that better reflect the aspiration and ambition of our communities.


To download a copy of the report Social Value: A Commissioning Framework. Part 1: Lessons from Lambeth, please click here

This blog was originally posted by Toby Blume at http://tobyblume.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/social-value-commissioning/ 

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