Getting Your Board On Board with Social Value
(Image courtesy of Malcolm Manners, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
At the end of last year, Social Value Ireland hosted an online workshop entitled Is your Board on board with social value? Here are some take-aways from that event that might be helpful if you wish to persuade your Board of the merits of this way of thinking and doing.
For a whole host of reasons, Board members might not (yet) place an importance on social value. Perhaps they believe that they already know the organisation is doing a good job without the need for further data. Or maybe they would like to do it, but feel that they don’t have the necessary skills. Or they have concerns that it is all too resource-intensive.
But Board members are custodians of your mission and they have a duty to make strategic decisions that will enable the organisation to achieve its goals as efficiently and effectively as possible. Can they do this in a meaningful way without thinking about social value?
Not adopting a social value approach carries risks and it is a governance responsibility to ensure organisational risks are mitigated. You might like to share some stories with your Board where proper data showed that much-lauded social interventions were actually doing harm instead of good. Scared Straight and Magic Dolls make for particularly compelling examples. And/or you could bring to your Board’s attention any number of positive unintended consequences that are almost always discovered whenever someone undertakes a detailed social impact or social value study (check out the social value reports on the resources section of our website).
You can also pitch other benefits that might accrue to the organisation if your Board fully takes on board the social value concept. These range from improved service provision to a better understanding by policy makers, from greater traction in the media to increased funding, from growing membership to an enhanced reputation, and much besides.
It is essential that a sense of curiosity and willingness to self-reflect are fostered amongst the Board. This factsheet, The Ten Impact Questions (page 20), and these self-assessments may provide useful entry points.
Your Board might gradually recognise that the best way of making a difference involves ongoing authentic two-way communication with stakeholders. Depending on your organisation, this might mean moving from a traditional ‘doing to’ approach in which people are passive recipients of a service to a more progressive ‘doing with’ approach in which there are equal and reciprocal partnerships between people. The chasm between these two states can seem big but this does not need to be the case. Changing practice can start as simply and cheaply as bringing a group of service users/clients/members together and asking them for their views (provided of course that you do then take these on board). And this can gradually be built upon over time.
And finally, remind your Board that the organisation does not have to do it alone. Plenty of support is available. Having at least two people within an organisation upskilled in social value (ideally a staff member and a Board member) is recommended. Social Value Ireland provides further resources and opportunities for peer support. And if it is really felt that external expertise needs to be brought in, then that is available too.
If your Board’s interest has been piqued, you might also like to signpost them to these additional resources:
NPC, 2015, Focusing on impact: what do trustees need to know?
NPC, 2017, Impact reporting: what trustees need to know
Socialsuite, 2020, Organisational readiness toolkit: six steps to becoming an outcomes-driven organisation.
So why not ensure that the agenda of the next meeting of your Board includes an item on social impact/value, and take it from there?