What does the idea of social value mean to you?

It is said “social value is the quantification of the relative importance that people place on the changes they experience in their lives” (socialvalue.org).

So how do we quantify this change?  Can we count it, and what measures are useful?  Is it something we can standardise or is it something that is an individualised concept?  Society has had thousands of years’ experience counting money.  Money spent, money brought in, money saved.  We are well practised at counting physical things, bricks, mortar, miles of roads.

Such approaches have limitations when applying to concepts less financial or concrete, like social impact.  Perhaps we need a new concept of maths, one that is capable of measuring social matters.  Maybe we don’t, and shouldn’t attempt to measure in numbers, instead using ways to artfully recognise and celebrate qualitatively.  It all represents quite a challenge to those more concerned with the finite, overt and obvious – the hard stuff.  You know those focused on evidence and science.  But there is a need to have a common understanding of social value.  It needs to be easily described, committed to and promoted widely – meeting the needs of artists and scientists.  If we don’t, then there is a huge risk of misapplication, misunderstanding and mistakes being made.  People may become disinterested and demotivated about such matters.

There is nothing worse than tokenistic actions that scratch the surface of intent and impact.  Social value and its implementation should not be a box-ticking exercise, it should be one that concerns itself with real change and impact.  Then people can appreciate and notice and value the soft stuff – things like behavioural change, feelings and thoughts.  And get excited about it for themselves and the people effected by their work or life choices.  There is a need to be patient too, something I learned through the UK Sure Start programme from 1998.  Too many people just did not get that social change can take a generation or more.

Social is a term used to describe many things for me.  It prompts me to think about other words like: people, communities, groupings, interpersonal interactions, mobility, education, care, health, behaviour, connections, relationships and friendships.

I wonder, what is your perspective?  What does the term social value mean to you?  What examples and experience can you identify that demonstrate a social value you have experienced yourself?

Examples of the social value we might experience are the people we meet and connect with.  Last night I met up with a friend I made when completing my last university course.  We have a great friendship – is this the social value of lifelong learning?  Perhaps it is, because the hard stuff was the study and the qualification.  The social value was the personal growth and the relationship I developed.  And our relationship has helped us put into practice our learning and helped our work.  Yet how do you measure that?  There isn’t a standard for a friend, or a model for how one uses new knowledge in the world.  Is there?

There are obvious and strong links to equality here, which is essential.  However, I worry social value can run the risk of getting muddled with various diversity initiatives. Inclusion is a good starting point, but the values of fairness and collaboration and power-equality are close behind.  These principles are more easily measured I think – the things that we can demonstrate in terms of the workforce profile and its development and opportunity, sharing of all resources – including but not exclusively money, and who makes the decisions.  We can evidence if a policy exists, the intent, but how do we evidence its application and impact?

As a psychotherapist I am all too aware of the complexities of quantifying, assessing and measuring anyone’s mental health and well-being.  It is far from a consistent system.  And who am I to judge anyway?  These are personal and mostly subjective human judgements even in a professional counselling relationship.  It is an imperfect art and science.

To not consider social value is to miss a corporate trick.  It has the possibility to make a much bigger difference through all the personal and professional actions we take.  By recognising, valuing and measuring our social value impact we can plan better, collaborate more richly, and consider the longer-term ripple effects of our decisions and the positive difference that can be made.  It is the added value that sets us apart from the crowd of competitors.  We can learn from it, investment out should see investment back in return, which increases the chances of what we do next having even better social value.

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

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