Why social value needs to get out of its comfort zone – and what we should do about it

Hannah Oldfield
Last month the National Social Value Taskforce released its report outlining a roadmap to a “social value economy”.

The steps laid out are clear and simple – organisations should embed social value at a strategic level, stay accountable, create space to learn and develop, and collaborate with each other to learn and improve. Logical steps, and a clear approach that makes a lot of sense.

But is it really saying anything new?

In social value, we’re really good at talking to each other about the change “we” collectively need to make and the steps we need to take to get there. We’ve got bloody good at expressing it over the years.

Yet we’re still having the same conversations, with the same people – the people who are already invested.

Whose mind are we really changing?

We use words like radical, but how radical are we REALLY being?

And have we got time to be going round in the same old circles?

This week CHY was at the Social Value Conference 2023. The breakout panel on radical collaboration spotlighted local authorities working with anchor institutions in their local areas to build a more joined-up approach to social value.

Is this an example of fantastic collaboration? Yes! Is it radical? Hardly! Public sector bodies have been collaborating for social good for years. The Sustainable Economy and Culture Board in Leeds (2006) was composed of anchor institutions and major cross sector private sector stakeholders – and this is just one example. We should absolutely be doing more of these kinds of collaborations, but in labelling them radical we’re missing a trick.

It means we set the bar lower than it should be.

We can and should be doing better.

For collaboration to be truly radical, it should look beyond the world already engaged with social value to find genuinely innovative approaches that will push us forward to the next level at a pace beyond glacial.

This requires moving beyond neat diagrams into the messy reality. Experimenting. Taking risks. Engaging with people who may not understand what social value is, but who are taking the actions we need to take (like engaging young people, using data effectively, mobilising communities) and not just making them work but smashing them out of the park.

Breaking into those spaces isn’t easy. But the potential rewards? Massive.

It’s time to stop repackaging what’s been done before and calling it innovation.

Social value is not emergent. It’s as old as the hills. And it’s time to start doing things differently.