The UK social value agenda can kick-start progress towards the SDGs

The social value movement in the UK has gained momentum since the enactment of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. In this blog Agnese Mizia, from the Social Value Portal, explains how the movement could kick-start progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals in the UK.

The social value movement in the UK has gained momentum since the enactment of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. The Act requires public sector organisations to “have regard to economic, social and environmental wellbeing in connection with public services contracts; and for connected purposes”. It’s designed to help commissioners get more value for money out of procurement, with explicit reference to economic, social and environmental wellbeing benefits for their communities and areas of service.

The impact has seen incentives for public sector supply chains rapidly shift, with organisations from both the private and third sectors now competing against each other to deliver triple bottom line value beyond business as usual. Small businesses are empowered with the newly recognised competitive advantage of being closer to communities and stakeholders, and therefore being able to specifically identify and respond to their needs. Larger organisations can formally leverage the value of their sustainability efforts to win more work and build stronger delivery partnerships.

This new wave of organisations that have now entered the social value landscape embedding social value delivery and measurement systems into their core business practices represents an invaluable new force on the journey towards more sustainable societies. They are eager to find better and smarter ways of delivering social value for the communities and areas they serve. They are competing to become leaders by demonstrating enhanced capabilities to transparently measure and evidence the impact they generate. Their numbers and enthusiasm will only increase if the scope and strength of the Social Value Act are expanded, as announced in June 2018 by David Lidington, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

It is not often that we see such a clear alignment of goals between the public, private and third sectors but this moment represents a unique opportunity for all parties to work together on a shared vision that encompasses both social value and sustainable development agendas in the UK. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a powerful tool to frame the direction and progress on that journey.

Here are eight things the Social Value agenda and the SDGs agenda have in common:

  • A common end-game: integrating economic, social, environmental and wellbeing considerations into the foundational mechanisms of how our society efficiently distributes resources and creates value

  • Leveraging and enabling cross-sector collaboration to unlock new opportunities and create more incentives for sustainability, as articulated by SDG17

  • Engaging with stakeholders focusing on value chains and communities – with organisations and communities creating social value charters and taking ownership of their needs to guide impact interventions, in the spirit of SDG11

  • Prioritising local interventions based on need or relative SDG performance

  • Recognising interdependencies among economic, social, environmental and wellbeing dimensions of value, and a clear resolve to tackle them together with a holistic approach

  • Requiring a fundamental shift in the way organisations make decisions, towards setting targets and goals based on societal, local, and global needs

  • Emergence of new business models with social concerns at the heart of decision-making - tying the company's future success to sustainable development

  • The need for a shared and transparent framework to articulate interventions and measure progress – in the spirit of Target 12.6

The opportunity for leveraging the synergies between the SDGs and the Social Value agenda can only be exploited if progress can be measured against a common scale.

In 2018, the National Social Value Task Force (NSVTF) launched the National Themes, Outcomes and Measures (TOMs) framework to provide a basis for common measurement and valuation for organisations embedding social value. At the Social Value Portal, we have worked with the NSVTF, to map the TOMs into the SDG targets. This aims to build a common language, signpost the broader SDGs agenda to the social value movement, and ensure compatibility in monitoring and measuring progress against the Goals.

Our free basic tool is aimed both at organisations that want to contribute to the SDGs but don’t know where to start, and at organisation that want understand how they can build interventions into their day to day activities to achieve their SDGs commitments. It is a first step toward establishing a stronger and more direct link between the social value and the SDGs agenda.

Agnese Mizia is Head of Research at the Social Value Portal. To find out more or get in touch about their tool please contact