Our cities have a direct impact on our everyday lives and happiness, on our families, and on opportunities available to our children and local communities. As such, urban development provides an opportunity for driving social change across society.
Despite this, in the field of urban development we seldom talk about which social values we want to deliver through urban transformation initiatives. Nor do we address social value as part of the jigsaw in transforming urban areas and lifestyles to more sustainable way of living. This means we are missing out a significant opportunity to reap social benefits and redress the inequalities between different citizen groups.
This challenge is cultural: we lack a common language and approach for discussing and driving social value in an urban context. While we see an increasing focus on reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact in our cities, less attention has so far been placed on understanding and improving the social impact of our built environment.
Although there is no universal definition of social values, we generally distinguish between four categories:
- Social cohesion and community including identity, sense of belonging, trust etc.
- Diversity and inclusion in communities and institutions
- Equity in access to housing, education, employment, health services, and recreation
- Engagement and governance, that is equal access to decision making processes
In our experience, the following actions are key elements in driving social value in and through urban transformations projects.
#1: Designing inclusive consultation and engagement processes
Engaging decision-makers, stakeholders, and local communities and, not least, underserved communities, is essential for delivering social value to all. It allows for a deep understanding of the needs and perspectives of the local communities, and different minority groups. This is in essence about tapping into the lived experience within the community. However, engagement processes are often not designed for inclusion, and consequently groups that are most likely to feel the negative impacts of urban transformation are less likely to participate due to lack of representation and lack of ability. But how do you proactively engage for inclusion? Here is our advice:
- Systematically map and identify all stakeholder groups and pay attention to identifying underserved and minority groups. This will differ from community to community, and from project to project. You might ask yourselves questions like: Are we truly engaging children and youth; elderly and disabled citizens? How do we engage cultural minority groups or different income groups? Who is most like to be most positively and negatively impacted, and have we consulted these groups?
- Make use of different approaches to engagement since citizens experience varying barriers and opportunities to fully contribute to engagement processes. This might be time constraints, language barriers, knowledge and prior experience, lack of trust or self-efficacy. It is vital that each engagement process is designed to ensure accessibility and meaning for all relevant groups of stakeholders. Based on experience, we recommend combining analogue and digital engagement activities and using activities that allow for individual contributions and co-creation.
#2 Assess whether your transformation is likely to delivering social value
To deliver social value, a pre-requisite is to map negative and positive impacts at the individual, community, and societal level; that might be possible employment impact from increased commercial activities in the community, rent cost increases from improved public transportation or renovation of local housing – and the possible impact towards current tenants. Our advice for assessing your possible social impact is:
- Make sure to assess the possible positive and negative, as well as intended and unintended impacts; and make sure to also assess the distribution of these impacts on different subgroups, such as different age groups, cultural minority groups, and economically disadvantaged groups.
- Use accepted, credible, and robust methodology, data and valuation measures and being transparent about the methodological approaches applied and the data sources used – and combine quantitative and qualitative data.
#3 Integrate social valuation in your business cases
Delivering social value often comes with a cost, and there is little regulation directing investments towards social value. Also, social return on investment is often not part of the business case. Consequently, it can be hard to follow through on investments to increase social value beyond sheer needs as the transformation progresses and budgets get tight.
The return from the investments in social value can be assessed, but it requires us to integration social valuation into our business cases.
Social valuation is still not widely established, but based on our experience within social investments and monetarisation of social impact, our best advice is:
- Focus on valuation of social values that can be directly linked to the investments, since these are the social values, that can be managed and therefore the most likely to be realised. Being able to build a solid case for how your investment has contributed to realising the social return is key to the overall creditability of your valuation.
- Make use of established monetary value for different kinds of social impacts, since this increases the credibility of your valuation, and also ensure comparability between analysis of the social value and social return from different investments.
For support and insights on driving social value, contact Line Dybdal, Market Director Social and Economic Impacts at Ramboll.
Let’s close the gap on resilient societies
By re-thinking conditions for life in our cities, we can create liveable and resilient communities.