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Jo Dobson – ICE Member and Useful Projects Associate – explains why creating social value during the delivery of infrastructure projects is growing in importance.
With significant infrastructure investment planned for the UK, matched with severe socio-economic challenges across the country, heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is now more need than ever for infrastructure projects to create additional social value over their lifecycle and help to re-build local economies.
But what is social value and what is the role of civil engineers in creating and delivering it?
Infrastructure’s purpose is to meet fundamental societal needs, for example to provide public transport, a low carbon energy supply, clean water or flood protection. However, the societal benefits that infrastructure projects can generate go way beyond delivering this basic functionality.
Infrastructure projects can also help address local socio-economic issues and inequalities. Projects create jobs for previously unemployed people; provide opportunities for small and medium enterprises and social enterprises; remove barriers to social inclusion; and ultimately increase the well-being of people involved in, or impacted by those projects. These additional benefits are known as social value.
Over the past year I’ve been researching how to improve the delivery of social value on infrastructure projects, for a research project co-funded by the ICE Research and Development Enabling Fund and Useful Projects. Maximising Social Value from Infrastructure Projects highlights implementation gaps between policy and practice, and the role of engineers in creating social value.
A useful framework for thinking about social value is to think about how you can generate social value through ‘what you build’, ‘how you build’ and ‘how you operate’.
Using the insight gained during this research project, Useful Projects has developed a Social Value Maturity Framework for infrastructure projects based on these three stages. It is intended as a guide for infrastructure organisations and/or project teams to reflect on their maturity in terms of embedding social value and maximising positive social impact through their business operations. It can also be used to help develop a Social Value Strategy for a project.
For each phase, we have categorised approaches as ‘basic’, ‘best’ and ‘pioneering’. We hope that the framework is used as a starting point from which to assess maturity, benchmark against other projects and instigate strategic planning and decision-making around the subject. It will evolve over time as projects improve their approach.
There are several recommendations arising from the research to help the infrastructure sector maximise social value. Here are some of the key recommendations arising from the research that are relevant to civil engineers:
A webinar is being held on 30 June 14.00-15.30 where the findings and recommendations from the research will be presented, alongside a parallel broader piece of research by the Institute of Economic Development: ‘From the Ground Up - Improving the delivery of Social Value in Construction’. Both studies reveal many challenges across all aspects of social value, and their recommendations support and complement each other. Sign up today.
Find out more on Useful Projects and download the report.
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