Social value matters… more than ever

In April Social Value International (SVI) teamed up with Turkish member Koç University Social Impact Forum (KUSIF) to deliver their annual conference in Istanbul. Here, Ben Carpenter of SVI reflects on what was learnt.

This year the conference title "Social Value Matters" carried the tag line “more than ever” with the backdrop of a world with rising inequality and a collective feeling that we must all act now to try to quickly to reverse this trend. 

The conference had a distinct emphasis on maximising social value, amplifying stakeholder voices and empowering the views of the vulnerable – the very people that many of us are providing service or products for. How can we make sure that we are maximising the value we create for these people? These themes ran deeply through all of the sessions. 

The conference brings together talented professionals from diverse spheres, all of whom are united in their desire to see social impact information being used to inform decision making and, ultimately, make the world a better place. 

Social Value Matters 2017 (SVM17) was no exception; more than 250 delegates came from over 25 countries representing the public sector, private sector, academia and civil society.

Cross cutting these sectors were investors, delivery organisations and advisors. Throw in the stunning setting of Koç University, which overlooks the banks of the Bosphorus and it was a heady mix.

Jeremy Nicholls, CEO of Social Value International, noted the professional diversity of attendees: “It’s great to have so many people from all over the world working together to improve the way in which managing impact can reduce inequality.”

The format of SVM17 was extremely participatory – there were no lectures or ‘expert panels’. Instead, there was always several interactive workshop options and the majority of the conference consisted of small round-table discussions.

Plenary sessions were kept to a minimum with high quality keynote speeches to start both days and delegates taking to the stage with an open mic session to reflect and summarise at the close of each day (with a live jazz soundtrack too). 


Enough talking; time to get to work

We should all (regularly) take a step back and ask ourselves why we are collecting this information about social value in the first place. The answer is surely: “So that we can maximise the social value we create”.

So, rather than focussing on the measurement of impact as an exercise in itself – and getting caught up in the complexities of empirical evidence or formative evaluation – we should focus on collecting the information we need to improve our products and services. Or, for investors or board members: is the organisation collecting the information it needs to improve its products or services?

if you are being accountable to your stakeholders then you are relentlessly innovating to provide the best services for them

I have written before about an emerging shift from impact measurement to maximising impact. This conference reaffirmed that it is definitely time to stop nitpicking about methodologies or metrics. More important is creating an organisational culture of listening to stakeholders and responding, which means designing services or products to meet their preferences.

Admittedly, this involves all of the complex and geeky things we love to discuss and are necessary to practice (such as stakeholder involvement, valuation techniques, counterfactual, materiality) but we should be doing it proportionately and with a clear raison d'être: to maximise the social value of our activities.

The truth is accountability and maximising value are two sides of the same coin; if you are being accountable to your stakeholders then you are relentlessly innovating to provide the best services for them. I can’t wait to bring in more experts from these fields to help develop our movement!


Moving forward

●    SVI will soon be publishing learning from workshops and roundtables, many of which have some clear actions for the community moving forward.
●    We will be analysing feedback from the conference that will give us some qualitative data on what impact the conference has had on attendees.
●    SVI will be launching a campaign for maximising value, which was also a need highlighted by SVI’s annual survey.
●    The Turkish chapter of Social Value International was officially launched at the conference and we expect more national networks to emerge or continue to grow. If you would like to join a national network or form one please contact SVI.

We hope all attendees and also people who couldn’t attend can stay in touch using the Social Value International Slack channel and continue to share thoughts with us on social media. Join the movement, by becoming a member of SVI today, and see you next year! 

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Photo credit: Modern Times Productions