Philip Watson, Head of Design at HLM Architects discusses Social Value in Design

In a recent article published by Building Magazine, Philip Watson talks about our involvement in the new ‘Maximising Social Value in Design: A Guide for Design Teams’ authored by the Social Value in Design Taskforce.

There are many barriers to truly integrating social value into the design of projects, but a new guide aims to show how change is possible.

Last month saw the launch of ‘Maximizing Social Value In Design: A Guide for Design Teams’, authored by The Social Value in Design Taskforce. This is a significant moment for the design fraternity in terms of sharing best practice in the area of social value.

The Social Value in Design Taskforce comprises over 40 design professionals from several organisations across the built environment sector, including architects, urban designers, transport planners, design engineering consultants and researchers who collaborated on this guidance document. The guide identifies the challenges we face as an industry in defining, adding and measuring the social value of the work that we do.

It offers practical advice on how social value can be curated at each stage of a project’s lifecycle and how design teams can deliver social value within their project teams; and what design decisions allow for end-users or wider community members outside a design team to continue creating a legacy of social value.

Key innovations that the taskforce delivered within these two workstreams include, the Social Value Plan of Work. This describes how social value should be implemented into each stage of the RIBA Plan of Work and the Design for Social Value Checklist, which was developed to establish an industry baseline of best practice tied to relevant case studies.

The best practice case studies, which HLM Architects contribute to, covered:

  • How design teams need to consider how they can add social value through their own CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities. We provide an accessible and supportive pathway to recruitment, training and employment opportunities for all local children from age five to qualified-architect level. Our interventions aim to develop the skills needed to join the world of architecture and ultimately diversify their pool of local employees to include residents of the most deprived areas;
  • “Meanwhile Uses”, with a great example of community engagement that found graffiti artists to decorate construction hoardings for a city centre education facility in Sheffield;
  • And a post-occupancy evaluation study for the University of St Andrews where the social return on the university’s investment in high quality student residences was monetarised by using social value bank proxies allied to student feedback scores.

Other great examples were provided by Stride Treglown and Sarah Wigglesworth Architects around community engagement, among others. The taskforce believes that sharing best practice will elevate the industry standard of social value in design and what it means to create places that truly benefit the local people who are using them.

Many challenges remain in terms of advancing the impact of the design community on social value outcomes and there are no easy fixes for any of them. I will describe just three.

  1. First, the fragmentation of the design and construction process where successive stages of a project are developed by a variety of different designers means that continuity of social value measures can be challenging to the point of impossibility. Establishing the social value outcomes at the outset of a project by the creation of a ‘Social Value In Design Brief’, and monitoring against this as the project progresses becomes more important than ever to ensure that ambitions are delivered.
  2. Secondly, since the introduction of the The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 new requirements have inevitably impacted all those wishing to work with the public sector, including professional services, as they have needed to submit their social value proposals as a part of the tender process. However, the current measures in relation to the procurement of designers does not recognise the scale and reach of the vast majority of businesses. Nor do they recognise the good work we do in terms of delivering social value outside of their narrow measurements.
  3. Finally, in the design of all building typologies there is substantial research to show that environmental qualities impact significantly on people’s health and wellbeing. Physiological aspects such as good access to daylight, views, appropriate acoustic separation, comfortable temperatures, and good quality of air all play their part in influencing healthy outcomes. Furthermore, psychological wellbeing is impacted by our sense of ownership, belonging and safety. Feeling connected with others and nature has substantial benefits to mental health outcomes. When these aspects of the built environment are addressed with people in mind, the impact on social value is potentially huge. However, a universally recognised way of measuring these aspects is yet to emerge, though practices like HLM Architects have created own tools for measuring this.

These are the challenges the design community must overcome if we are to improve and evidence our social value impact. The mission of the taskforce to integrate social value in design does not end with this guidance, we must continue to shape an industry standard and develop ways of ensuring best practice is shared and recreated. This is only the beginning.