UKREiiF: What’s broken in UK social value? And how can we fix it?

We’re taking part in the Social Value Summit at this year’s UKREiiF (the UK’s Real Estate Investment & Infrastructure Forum). We’re hopeful that this will be a much-needed open and transparent conversation between key players in social value and real estate, in a bid to address some of the big challenges facing us today.

Ahead of the event, we’ve been asked to think about what’s broken in the social value sector, how we can fix it, and what we think our end game should be.

We’d love to know what you think too. What do you feel the ultimate aim of social value should be? And, more importantly, how do we get there from where we are now?

Here are the three points we’ll be bringing to the table…

1. We’re still struggling when it comes to measurement and articulation

A couple of key issues we’d like to flag here…

We’re lucky to have some excellent social value measurement frameworks at our disposal now. But this means companies often fall foul of a “measurement-first” approach. By taking their lead from framework requirements before they’ve thought about what they can achieve as a business, companies end up with back-to-front social value strategies that are a poor fit for their organisation, difficult to embed and achieve little significant impact.

Consistency in articulation and vanity metrics are also a problem.

There has been some criticism of the variation in proxies used by different measurement frameworks – for example, the social value of an apprentice might be calculated slightly differently by each. But this ignores a larger issue – that organisations are claiming social value in wildly different ways. Some include 100% of social value delivered through their supply chain, others claim 50% or none of the value. Some claim only ‘additional value’, others claim ‘all’ value. Most construction businesses include economic impact which accounts for over 90% of the social value they report.

This skews figures enormously, making it impossible to compare across projects, businesses, geographies and industries. It is rare that these figures are broken down so an audience can see what has been included.

We need organisations to be more transparent if we want to use social value figures as a trustworthy yardstick – otherwise measurement risks becoming a PR exercise rather than honest accounting.


Although the roots of social value are as old as the hills, social value measurement is a relatively new concept. So perhaps it’s no surprise it’s taking us a bit of iteration to get it working well for everyone. This will be an evolution, not a revolution.

Organisations need clearer guidance on best practice, along with transparency and accountability. This will help all of the above.

2. We need to get better at working together

There’s a lot of talk in the social value space about collaboration, but we often see the same old faces having the same conversations and very little changes.

It’s also notable that as the sector grows and more players have a commercial interest, it can be challenging to have open and honest conversations with each other without individual agendas clouding the debate. As a business ourselves, we can appreciate that this is tough – it requires constant vigilance and self-awareness. But really we should be able to unite under a common goal. If we can’t, we should be asking ourselves why.

Differing viewpoints and ideologies around what social value is can sometimes slow us down too. It may require compromise, but a common understanding would mean we could all spend more time taking action.


If we’re serious about progress, we need to get better at working together. That means reaching outside of our comfort zones, listening to each other, learning, acting and being bolder in taking risks together for the sake of innovation.

3. Have we lost our “why”?

Once upon a time there was a social value practitioner who came into the sector with passion and purpose. But as they became absorbed in the business world with all its complexities, they began to feel frustrated about how little impact they were having. Slowly, their motivation started to ebb away…

We hear this story all the time – maybe you do too? Of course, social value can’t exist forever in the realms of idealism, it needs to work for commercial interests. However, without that human excitement and enthusiasm to make a difference we are all lost.

There has been a huge uptick in social value related roles being advertised and huge differences in how these roles are embedded in organisations, which is challenging for those working in the industry. We’re in a situation now where ‘Social Value Consultants’ are often data controllers looking after measurement platforms – totally removed from the foundational tenets of social value. Without care, we’ll keep drifting further and further from our original purpose.


As commercial interests inevitably grow, we need to make a concerted effort to keep social value practitioners – and their managers, business directors, and everyone who works alongside them – connected with their broader mission. It’s vital that people feel they are part of something bigger and making a difference. We see Young Professionals in Social Value (YPSV) starting to make real inroads here – what else can we do? Is the idea of an Institute of Social Value really just a pipe dream, or is it something we can start to work towards?

The End Game…?

At CHY, our goal as a consultancy is the same as it has always been: to not exist. We want organisations to get so good at this stuff that they don’t need us any more – social value is just the way they get things done.

Creating an ecosystem that’s reliant on our presence is, in our view, counterproductive. Our aim is for our clients to become self sufficient – leaders in social value, not followers. Idealistic? Maybe. But the closer we can get to our goal, the more good everyone will do. So we’re going to have a damn good go at it.

If the social value sector truly embraces our collective ‘why’ then surely, like charities, our collective end game is to no longer exist.  But, in the meantime, we would be happy with transparency, accountability with consequence and a collective willingness and openness to challenge, improve and innovate.

We’d love to know what you think are the key challenges facing the sector at the moment, and how we should address them.

And if you’re going to be at UKREiiF this year – come and say hello!