Lockdown Sessions: Is Social Value Essential to Good Design?

Our recent digital discussion forum focused on social value in the built environment. We looked at what defines it, and whether it is essential to good design .

What is Social Value in the Built Environment?

Social value quantifies the relative importance that people place on the changes that affect them in their lives.

You measure social value by looking at things from the perspective of the people that are impacted by them.

Market prices may capture some of this value, but by no means all of it. Social value widens the definition of value beyond the monetary.

This has profound implications when designing for the built environment.

A key implication is that architects should be able to unlock added value in the projects they design. Occupants and end-users will then experience this added value in finished projects.

Already, many practices are including social objectives in their project planning.

For example, in conservation, social value carries equal weighting with historic and aesthetic values. This recognises what historic and heritage-based environments can mean to local communities. This can be about identity, or how a kind of collective memory gives a sense of belonging.

The principles of social value, should, however, apply across the board.

If developers, agencies, organisations and others are serious about regenerating town centres, they must consider how proposed changes will affect communities. This applies both to residential and commercial work.

How Do You Measure Outcomes?

The challenge with social value is in how you quantify and express it after completing a project.

Our culture is very much focused on audit. This means that the financial bottom line is what drives and measures most projects. Within this culture, it is difficult to set clear metrics for social value

One area where social value has come into play as a measurable facet is procurement.

The Social Value Awards have recognised this in the work of One Manchester, an organisation that has clearly committed itself to social value through its procurement policy. This requires bidders to state what they currently provide in terms of social value; and what specific local impact they will deliver, if they are successful in becoming a supplier.

Beyond this approach, making social value a permanent value in the built environment requires embedding it in projects from the very beginning.

It means clients need to learn to recognise the opportunities for adding social value when commissioning work; and design professionals should apply social value to the projects they design.

What Does Design Look Like Without Social Value?

Simply imposing a structure on an environment is highly likely to have a detrimental impact on the local culture.

There are numerous negative examples of building solutions that have been imposed on neighbourhoods.

Even where a sense of community survives such impositions, the very fabric of the buildings may still pose a threat to these communities.

The most notorious example of this is Grenfell Tower.

Bad design doesn’t just mean 60s-style modernist high-rises, however. There has also been damning evidence of most new housing being poorly designed.

The need for good design based on social value extends to the commercial sphere. With the survival of many local high streets in the balance, any regeneration must consider carefully, and strategically, how to repurpose them.

How Do We Design With Social Value?

Making the world a fairer, more sustainable place to live in is not some ideological pipe-dream.

Laying the foundations for change can quite literally involve bricks and mortar.

But to build a better world first requires both collaboration and understanding.

Real, measurable action is important, obviously, but so is opening up meaningful dialogues between developers, planners, designers, stakeholders and local communities.

Good design in the built environment should have social value underpinning it, but good communication is a precondition to defining the social value in a project.

What are the Principles of Social Value?

According to Social Value UK, the principles of social value are:

  • Involving stakeholders
  • Understanding what is changing
  • Valuing the things that matter
  • Only including what is relevant
  • Not over-claiming
  • Being transparent
  • Verifying the result.

If you experience the benefits of social value, you should be:

  • Maximising the value you can create
  • Involving the people who matter most
  • Gaining a competitive advantage
  • Enhancing your internal and external communications
  • Winning funding and contracts.

Thank you to our guests:

Dr Sarah Fitton, Social Value & Stakeholder Engagement Specialist
Emma Jones, Director, Acer Town Planning
Ivor Phillips, Associate Director, Broadway Malyan
Gavin Watts, Director, Define Architects

Partisan’s Lockdown Sessions

Partisan hosts regular, online discussion forums. We also host webinars with specially invited panels of speakers. For more information, please email hello@partisan.studio

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