Social Pariah to Social Butterfly?

Rob Wolfe

As the country becomes a collective of social pariahs, is this our opportunity to become a social butterfly: dynamic, appealing and outward looking? Or do we forget what we have learnt about the social value we can create, what we have achieved over the past decade and step back into our cocoon?

“This is f*cked up”

Strange, unprecedented, surreal…are all adjectives I have received to describe what’s happening at the moment but the best I have heard was simple yet effective – “this is f*cked up”.  Coverage across the press and social media have put forward, discussed and argued the points for and against the continuation of sites, the contractual challenges caused and the government support (or lack of) for the self-employed and subcontractor.

I am not going to delve deeper into these discussions (great article and follow up articles by CN here) but focus on how COVID-19 could and should affect the social value, impact and responsibility of the industry.

Has COVID-19 shown our true colours?

One thing we have to consider when thinking about the future social value of our industry is how it is perceived by its existing, past and future workforce.  If we are honest with ourselves, we were not starting from a great position before COVID-19.  Over the past 2 weeks this has got much worse; it has been portrayed that we are making decisions informed by profit, cost and legality while putting people’s health and wellbeing at risk.  

Profit first – People last: Is that true?

When co-designing Social Value Strategies with our clients we ask one question:

Where does your business or project have enough influence to achieve the most positive change for our stakeholders?

In essence the answer enables us to focus on where and how we make decisions.

We need to ensure that, as we emerge from COVID-19 (which we will), we are in a position to make decisions that are informed by the positive and negative social implications (its impact on people) of that decision.

People often put this in the “too difficult” pile.  The most common phrase we hear in initial chats with our clients is “this has been on my/our to-do list for months [or sometimes years], but the day job has got in the way”.

Whether it is because of a devastating slow down and closure of the industry, or you are reflecting on recent decisions made by industry; as social pariahs we have an opportunity to collaborate, to learn and to share so we can emerge from our cocoons making better decisions for the industry, for our people and the communities in which we work.


COVID-19 has shown us that social value is about the core values of a business and the health and wellbeing of people.  Social value is not “the fluffy stuff” – the photo that can get your name in the local paper, the team building exercise – and I am anything but a Care Bear.  

Social value is the skills crisis that will only grow, the health and wellbeing of our workforce, the opportunity for new business and innovation to thrive and the legacy we leave in a community.

Since 2006 CHY and others have shown that real, tangible and measurable social value can be achieved through the built environment.  We have encouraged, coerced and cajoled the direction of the oil tanker from a path that said (informed by legality) that social value could not be included in Section 106 planning policies or procurement processes, down a path of Social Value KPIs now commonly used in both planning and procurement, to a path of evaluation not consideration, socio-economic financial metrics, objective transparent measurement, accountability, collaborative social value policies and processes, social value strategies that deliver outcomes throughout the full project lifecycle. As we emerge from our cocoons and are desperate to generate good press, to Get Britain Building and to reboot the economy, let’s not forget what has been achieved over the past 15 years.  

We must continue the social value movement and the momentum it has generated, we must share our social strengths, our social challenges and embed a responsible culture within our industry; we must learn from others, collaborate with everyone and listen.

Our industry could then become a Social Butterfly; dynamic, appealing and outward looking.

So…what are we doing?

We are hosting free weekly Social Value Open Surgeries from Thursday April 16th. The online surgeries will be open to anyone and will cover a variety of social value topics informed by attendees.  Topics could include:

  • Introduction to Social Value in the Built Environment: Where it is now, where it will be, where it could be….
  • Social Value Outcomes Mapping – determining the Social Value outputs (KPIs) that can be achieved through a project/business and how they align with Business Objectives, Sustainability Capitals, longer term social outcomes, Health and Wellbeing outcomes, the Sustainable Development Goals, Local Authority Strategy, and the Government Industrial Strategy
  • Social Value Strategies, Policies and Process
  • Where next for your business? – practical steps to take on your journey to an embedded social value strategy.
  • Social Value in procurement – what is happening? What businesses need to do to align with local authority, private developer and government current and future practice.
  • Social Value data, monitoring and measurement – introduction to socio-economic (financial) measurement, KPI management and open data benchmarking.
  • Wouldn’t it be great if…Forward thinking, future planning, utopian discussions – be bold, be ambitious, no limits discussion on what we could do without constraints.

We will be supporting businesses and project teams to take the first, next or final steps in developing their Social Value Strategy.  Offering FREE advice, guidance, training and support sessions online.

We will continue to campaign, inform and develop practical tools to help the built environment generate good growth for our industry, our people and the communities in which we work.