Another voice on social value

There’s an interesting item over on Vicki Fitzgerald’s Inside Outcomes blog in which she explains her own perspective — based on more years than she cares to remember working in public and community health — on social value.

It very much echoes comments we made here in a post covering the roundtable event on social value that we ran on the 19th June.

Graphic courtesy of Finditinbirmingham

Graphic courtesy of Finditinbirmingham

Essentially, Vicki argues that governments come and go, but providers — social enterprises, the third sector — “keep on going, delivering, helping and making real changes to peoples lives. They know what works, and now they have the opportunity to put that knowledge into a framework for performance and accountability. It needs to be simple, clear,consistent and shared. It needs to be presented in ways that commissioners recognise, understand and value. if providers lead it they can shape it.”

I agree, of course.

In our report of the roundtable event we said:

  • Providers and purchasers lack not just standardised methods for measuring and reporting social value, but also a shared language for articulating social value.
  • There is still some doubt about what commissioners and purchasers want to know – i.e. are they concerned primarily with counting social value ‘outputs’ (e.g. number of apprenticeships created), or are they more concerned with being able to assess the social impact derived from these additional social value outcomes?
  • Relatively little is being done within local authorities to assess whether transferable evidencing and monitoring methods might already exist in other parts of the organisation – e.g. in Supporting People commissioning.


So you see, we are very much in agreement.

And that’s good, as far as it goes. But  formulating a way out of the present impasse needs more than that. That’s why as part of our current Barrow Cadbury-funded work we’re delivering workshops for social enterprises which include diagnostics followed up with individual support to start formulating a social value framework tailored to the organisation.

It’s a bit too soon to report on what’s coming out of these workshops (they’re still running), but we will, because we think there will be some significant learning that can be shared — good practical stuff, and there frankly isn’t a lot of that around.

In the absence of a single ‘industry-standard’ methodology — and I’m not sure there will ever be one — I think we have to press on doing what we can to support the sector in getting to grips with social value. Limited and piecemeal as some will argue such efforts are, I don’t see another way.



Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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