25 July, 2023

What is Social Value? And How Can You Measure it in Projects?

Increasingly, both Project Managers and their clients are asking, ‘How can we deliver social value in our projects?’ So, in this video, I answer the questions, ‘What is Social Value?’ and ‘How can we measure it in our projects?’

This video is safe for viewing in the workplace.

This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy

What is Social Value?

Let’s start with what value is. It is the importance, usefulness, desirability or worth of something. So, Social Value must be the importance, usefulness, desirability or worth of something to society.

So, Social Value is the importance people place on positive changes in their lives. We create Social Value when we do or make something that people consider enriches their lives or that the community needs.

Examples of Social Value

Examples of Social Value that our Projects can deliver include doing or creating the following:

  • Making buying choices that favor sustainability, social equity, and fairness
  • Training and apprenticeship opportunities
  • Providing local employment and buying from local businesses
  • Promoting environmental protection or developing it
  • Reducing energy or materials consumption
  • Reducing waste, pollution, and Carbon emissions
  • Supporting volunteering and community service
  • Enhancing physical and mental wellbeing
  • Supporting the welfare of and opportunities for disadvantaged groups
  • Enhancing equality, inclusion, and belonging

As you’d expect, there is a big overlap between the idea of Social Value and that of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Indeed, since Social Value has social, environmental, and economic components to meeting community needs, John Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line is a key reference.

I’ll put a link to my short course on CSR on my other YouTube channel, in the description.

Some Projects are all about Creating Social Value

These projects sit largely in the public and not-for-profit sectors. Charities and NGOs exist to provide social benefit. And, in many countries, this is the main object of government at all tiers.

Increasingly, governments and not-for-profits seek to look for Social Value in the delivery of all their projects – even where the principal purpose is not one of Social Value.

So, conservation charities, welfare organizations, and schools may run projects that are all about Social Value. But, when Governments procure stationery, they may also seek environmental benefits. When a hospital procures a new finance system, it may look for local training opportunities. And, when the local homeless shelter buys toiletries in bulk, they may welcome a volunteering program from their supplier.

In the UK, the Public Services (Social Value) Act, 2012 allows public authorities to give up to 10 per cent of points to Social Value when evaluating competitive procurements.

How can You Create Social Value in your Projects?

‘I’d love to build social value into my project, but my boss won’t let me!’

Does that resonate with you?

The answer is to build a case based on the benefits Social Value brings to the sponsoring organization. A wide variety of research and consulting organizations, and business journals have conducted research. Their findings show that the case for a little extra investment in Social Value brings big returns in, for example:

  • Attracting and retaining staff
  • Brand strength, trust, and loyalty
  • Investor appeal
  • Competitive advantage
  • Business growth

How can We Measure Social Value?

Clearly, measuring Social Value needs to move beyond the normal financial measures of value. But the principles still hold. The only problem is that, as I discussed in my video, ‘What is Value?’, there are two ways we can calculate value.

In the US, PMI suggests we calculate the value as the net benefit. That is, value equals total benefit minus total cost.

V = B – C

In the UK, APM suggests we calculate value as the ratio of ‘satisfaction of requirements’ (ie total benefit) over ‘use of resources’ (ie total cost). That is, Value equals total benefit divided by total cost.

V = B / C

Both are equally ‘right’, but give a different measure of value. Either is fine as long as you:

  • Are consistent in your use of it
  • Respect local requirements and procedures

In fact, for elements of Social Value that you can measure in financial terms, you can also use Social Return on Investment, calculated as:

SVROI = ( B – C ) / C

We also have a video on ROI.

However, there is a widely used international approach to measuring Social Value.

The TOM System

Internationally, Social Value is widely measured using the TOM System. This stands for ‘Themes, Outcomes, and Measures’ and implementations typically align with the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The process has five stages:

  • The first is setting a Strategy.
  • Next is the evaluation Framework
    This begins by identifying one or more of five broad Themes:
    • Work
    • Economy
    • Community
    • Planet
    • Innovation

For each theme, we develop outcomes and then identify the measures will use to evaluate delivery

  • The third stage is Evidence
    We record the data we need to calculate the measures, and the sources of the data we use
  • Fourth, we Evaluate
    We calculate a financial measure of Social Value, using proxy values drawn from relevant databases and statistics. In the UK, for example, we have data from the Treasury (Finance Ministry) and our Office for National Statistics. This gives us a measure in our local currency – Social Value Pounds, Dollars, Euro, or Rupees, for example.
    But, critically, we need to also articulate the non-financial evidence, with the story of how communities will benefit, alongside simple non-financial measures.
  • The final stage is a Report that presents the evaluation, with the financial and non-financial data alongside stories and case studies.

Summing Up Social Value

You may be doing Social Value projects as part of your career portfolio. I hope that all the best Project Managers will choose to do this at some stage.

But there is no reason why any Project Manager cannot incorporate some Social Benefits into the definition and Business Case for your projects. Indeed, the reasons to do so are compelling. Not just for the value it delivers to the communities around you. Nor even for the business benefits that Social Value can offer the sponsoring organizations.

But, if it’s not too selfish, because the Harvard Business Review found that over 70% of employees want to work for a company with a strong social purpose. And I am sure that includes you and most of your project team.

This Video is Sponsored by Association for Project Management

APM is a professional body, and a membership body. It delivers learning and networking opportunities, qualifications, research, resources, events, and best practice guidance for the project community, helping the profession deliver better.

APM leads debates, champions innovations, and challenges the status quo where they think it will make a difference.

Future Lives and Landscapes

It is currently campaigning on the delivery of Social Value in the UK, with its Future Lives and Landscapes campaign. This will look for answers to important questions like:

  • What challenges does the UK face when it comes to delivering projects that will improve people’s lives and prospects?
  • What’s needed to address these challenges
  • Who will shape and deliver these projects, and what skills, funding, and resources will they need to enable them to do it?

Carefully curated video recommendations for you. First, let’s answer some ‘what is’ questions.
What is…


And, we have a whole course on CSR, on our partner YouTube channel, Management Courses, and on our Management Courses website.

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

Learn Still More

For more great Project Management videos, please subscribe to the OnlinePMCourses YouTube channel.

If you want basic Management Courses – free training hosted on YouTube, with 2 new management lessons a week, check out our sister channel, Management Courses.

For more of our Project Management videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management.

For more of our videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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