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  • Writer's pictureSandra Velthuis

Social Value Principles 6-8 - A Closer Look

Social value is about understanding the relative importance that people place on changes to their wellbeing and using the insights gained to make better decisions. Social value is governed by eight principles. We have previously delved into Principles 1-2 and Principles 3-5. We recently completed our Member Session mini-series by exploring the final three principles. Here are some key take-aways:

Honesty, visibility, accountability, integrity, openness to public scrutiny: however it is framed, we believe strongly that there is more to be gained from operating in the open than in secret. This holds true generally, but is absolutely essential when accounting for social value. In this context, there is both an internal and external function of transparency:

Internal: making the best possible decisions to manage impact

Although reporting social value is undoubtedly important, as shown below, optimising social value for stakeholders is arguably more significant. It is virtually impossible to do this without solid data on the (potential) effect of interventions – both positive and negative – on people affected by those interventions. Being informed by data allows the analysis and comparison of different options and the evaluation of results. As always, the adage “enough precision for the decision” applies: relatively low stakes internal decisions require less data rigour and precision than high stakes ones. It is of course essential to act on the insights uncovered and implement, and then monitor, the results of any decisions made on foot of these.

External: being accountable to stakeholders

Stakeholders deserve to know to what extent interventions are delivering results. Organisations should therefore produce regular reports on social value already created or intended to be created (Social Value International will soon be publishing an updated reporting standard to help that process). If reporting externally, there is likely to be a need for a higher level of rigour and precision than if reporting remains an internal activity. It is important to be upfront about any risks and limitations associated with the reporting, such as a small sample size or the extensive use of averages. Being able to stand over whatever is reported is crucial. Reports should be tailored to the various audiences that might have an interest in them.

An example was provided of a 2019 Social Return On Investment study of Na Fianna CLG, a Dublin GAA club. Its Executive Committee was able to review a draft of the report prior to publication. The full assured report was then made available on the club website, together with an easy-to-digest summary and a spreadsheet containing all the calculations. Furthermore, there was a face-to-face presentation of the findings to club members, followed by considerable media coverage that was of interest to the general public.

The results from any analyses of social value must be verified. Why?

o To ensure that they are accurate and hold true.

o To make decisions based on the best available data.

o To get buy-in for decisions.

o And, vitally, to have comfort about the process of going public with findings.

The primacy of Principle 1 means that stakeholders should be involved throughout the social value accounting process, including in the verification of results. It can also be helpful to set up a steering group of people from different parts of the organisation with whom things can be sense-checked along the way. If reports are to be made public, it is good practice to seek external verification, whether that is through the academic peer review process, or more likely, through the Social Value International report assurance process.

There is also merit to creating a culture of verification more generally, for instance, through service user forums or other types of external accreditation schemes.

This is the newest principle, which came about partly because too many organisations halted the process of thinking about their social value on the publication of an externally focused social value report. The work does not stop there (in fact, it should not even start there …). An organisation with a social mission should have a goal of pursuing optimum social value at all times, which means social value must be deeply embedded into the work of that organisation. Social Value International has produced detailed guidance on how this might best be done, which includes having in place approaches, systems and mechanisms that allow for timely decision-making at all levels – strategic, tactical and operational – and striving for continuous improvement.

Doing all of this may sound like hard work, but it can be done and the rewards are potentially great. The example was provided of Donore Credit Union, Ireland’s oldest credit union, which took the decision to commission an external social value study in 2019, the final assured report of which was launched in 2020. A review was done two years later to see what had changed as a result of the report’s recommendations. It was found that the process had made the Board and staff of the credit union much more confident about the value they were bringing to members, the credit union’s place in the local community, and about using its social impact as a key competitive advantage (compared to high street and online banks). It helped the credit union to return to its roots, broaden its outlook, accelerate its significant expansion, and recognise the key role of collaboration in all of this.

If you have any questions about any of the above, or indeed any other aspect of social value, do not hesitate to contact us.


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