Identifying social value — perhaps this approach can help your enterprise?

When Lord Young reviewed implementation of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, his report (February 2015) concluded that local authorities had made significantly more progress than health bodies in utilising social value. Our own research at that time confirmed this view.

But the transfer of public health commissioning to local authorities means that public health contracts are now beginning to contain at least some social value outcomes. Amongst NHS commissioners the concept has still not gained traction.

But even where public health contracts do include social value, it is not comprehensive or consistent and some social enterprises are frustrated by this. They feel that the contracts they are delivering don’t fully acknowledge their achievements and that more can be done to extend the use — and understanding — of social value in health.

What can be done?

We’ve been working with a small number of social enterprises involved in health/public health delivery to see if there is more they can do to report proactively on the social value they are achieving. If commissioners begin to hear more about social value from their providers, perhaps this will help promote its wider adoption?

For example, we spoke to one social enterprise delivering an NHS health contract to see if we could help managers identify additional social value outcomes. To do this we looked at the following:

  • What did the contract currently require them to report against?
  • Did this reporting capture all of the outcomes — or were some client outcomes unaccounted for? If so, these represent social value.
  • What about methods of delivery? Was any additional social value achieved because of the way the contract was being delivered?


This last point turned out to be really important. In the contract we looked at, the organisation was: enabling the involvement of volunteers (including women and disadvantaged groups); encouraging clients’ partners to participate in the programme (which improved retention and completion), and promoting peer support amongst users. And all of these delivery methods were creating additional social value that was not being reported and which the commissioner knew nothing about.

What does this tell us?

We found this very instructive because it suggests that enterprises can do more to report proactively on social value — and it confirms, as we said in this post, that reporting social value doesn’t need to be over-complicated. Medway Community Healthcare’s simple but effective social value report confirms this.

But the most important lesson was that identifying additional social value was not especially difficult. And most importantly, it didn’t require the organisation to do extra work: this additional social value derived directly from the organisation’s particular methods of service delivery. You might say it stemmed directly from the organisation’s social mission.

We think this is the case for very many social enterprises.

Perhaps a similar approach will help you interrogate your contracts for additional social value that you can report? Think of it this way:

  • Does our social mission — our way of working, our fundamental purpose — contribute to this contract?
  • If so, how? What outcomes does it produce?
  • Are these outcomes in addition to the core requirements of the contract? IF SO, THEY REPRESENT SOCIAL VALUE!
  • Are we capturing and reporting these outcomes?
  • Are we making sure to use this information in our marketing, key messages and promotional materials?


You’ll have a number of ways that you can report on this social value. In some cases, there may be readily available return-on-investment figures — such as savings to other services — that you know are routinely used. In some cases perhaps only a narrative case study/explanation will be possible.

This is OK. A mix-and-match approach to reporting social value is perfectly justified — unless, of course, a commissioner is asking you for something much more specific.

Social Value in health — it doesn’t have to be complicated.

See all blog posts tagged ‘social value’.

See all website material on public services and social value.

 See all website materials on social value and health.


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

Leave a Reply