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Increasing your social value: how one company continues to drive positive change

The days of CSR are long behind us and social value expectations have matured. What measures can organisations that already understand social value put in place to stay ahead of the game?

Octavius Infrastructure (Octavius) prioritised the development of a powerful social value offer. This has transformed the organisation’s reputation, work culture and bid success.

Here is the story of their ongoing social value evolution. Packed with ideas for any organisation looking to increase their social value offer.

How it all started

Like many companies that began as a local, family-run business, Octavius had a history of supporting and giving back to the community. But historically nobody had coordinated or captured all this good work. So there was no easy way to articulate just how much benefit the company was giving. This put them at a disadvantage when PPN 06/20 came into force. They needed to evidence social value as part of the bid process.

In September 2021, prompted by the legislation changes, the senior management team created an in-house social value department, headed up by Sarah O’Mahoney as Social Value Manager, quickly followed by People and Sustainability Director Cat Cliffe and later Senior Social Value and Sustainability Advisor Chris Bates.

The social value team was put together to:

  • Manage, implement and coordinate social value plans.
  • Ensure plans met project, framework and customer requirements.
  • Build relationships with community partners to support social value delivery.
  • Take steps to support supply chain partners in delivering and capturing their social. value.
  • Capture, record and evidence all of the above.

Putting social value systems in place

The first step was to gain a comprehensive oversight of the social value taking place within the business, to see what was being done well and what needed work. Octavius adopted Thrive software as a way to capture and measure this data.

By using Thrive the team could look at all the social value activities taking place in the business. The team then mapped them to get a clear overview of what was happening.

Furthermore, using Thrive’s measurement tool – the Impact Evaluation Standard – the team worked out that through the year 2021/22 Octavius had delivered over £11 million in social value to the communities and environment around them.

This occurred at no extra cost to the business – it was work they were already doing.  

Like a lot of companies, Octavius was already delivering social value in the business. It just lacked the tools to capture and measure everything that was already going on.

“In the past, we didn’t have a tool to calculate the benefit,” Sarah explains. “Using Thrive meant we were able to record this in a robust system with evidence to back it up, with everything validated and held in a central location. And, thanks to the Impact Evaluation Standard proxy values, we could, for the first time, estimate monetary value for some of our efforts.”

How has the company increased their social value offering?

Since the introduction of PPN 06/20, the social value landscape has evolved further. Local authorities and public bodies have got better at knowing what they’re looking for in terms of social value. So private companies need to be even more on top of their social value offer when bidding for work.

As a growing organisation, Octavius has worked hard to keep developing its social value offer to stay ahead of these demands, deliver even more value and make sure they continue to win contracts.

Here are just some of the steps the organisation has taken to reach their ambitious targets and provide even more social value for clients, partners and communities:

1. Broadening social value outputs

As public bodies began to request increasingly specific evidence of meaningful social value delivery, the Octavius team realised it was time to look at new ways to support the communities around them.

“We realised that customers were starting to look for slightly different things, so we would need to broaden the remit of what we offered.” Sarah explains.

Octavius has since been expanding their charity partnerships to increase their social impact. Recently they took part in a ‘Find Your Future’ day with charity partner ESLA (Education, Learning, Skills & Achievement) to help children in care develop vital career skills including networking and team building.

Octavius is also working with Business2Business who deliver employability workshops for offenders, to help them develop skills and match them with opportunities and interviews on release. By sending staff members along to help deliver a job fair for prisoners due for release, Octavius generated over £700 of social value (measured using Impact Evaluation Standard proxy values).

2. Growing the team

Over the last 15 months, Octavius has hired three social value and stakeholder managers. They will work closely with internal and external customers and stakeholders to evidence, capture and measure environmental and social value data on large projects.

In addition, Octavius has brought in two permanent sustainability and social value advisors to support the delivery of their social value and sustainability strategy. A social value and stakeholder advisor has been hired to work on one large, long-term project.

Sarah O’Mahoney – Social Value Manager

“As Octavius grows and we win more work, it makes sense to invest in social value and stakeholder experts within the business,” Sarah says. “Long-term we hope to have social value and stakeholder managers assigned to our regional bases who can nurture relationships in the local community and empower the project teams.”

3. Empowering everyone in the business to take a social value approach

The employee Social Value Hub sits at the heart of Octavius’ internal engagement strategy. This intranet resource is packed full of educational resources and practical tools to help staff learn about and deliver social value.

“The first step to social value is stakeholder engagement. Our social value and stakeholder experts are key drivers of our social value strategy but they can’t do it all. Engaging with staff is key to our success, building relationships, educating and creating tools to empower the  business wide” Sarah says.

“So we’ve introduced more tools that empower people to think for themselves and just do it. We can encourage and support but ultimately we need people to understand that through their day to day duties they contribute to delivering social value.”

Bid managers and project leaders can access information on which activities are classed as social value, to refer to when creating and delivering contacts. Guidelines, metrics and evidence are provided to back up all claims. The hub also spotlights charities and community organisations that need investment, resources, volunteer hours or financial donations, so staff can see where their resources are best deployed.

Octavius has recently introduced a Community Partners Directory to the Social Value Hub. This makes it simple for anyone in the business to access details of partners Octavius has worked with in past projects.

“The Community Partners Directory means that, regardless of whether a project is at bid stage or live, you can just go and click the area you’re working in and it will give you several people you can contact who we’ve worked with in the past.” Sarah explains,

Not only does this save time and effort, it strengthens partner relationships and empowers individuals across the business to reach out by themselves.

Social value training is now being added to the standard employee training offer. This is another step that the team hopes will help cement social value thinking as part of company culture. Octavius’ cultural development programme  “STOPThink!”  currently covers topics like equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and health and safety. Social value will be the next module added.

Sarah explains: “It’s educational but we’ve included practical tasks to get people thinking about how they could add social value to a project. It’s about educating people, empowering them and then embedding that thinking with practical steps.”

What’s next on the social value agenda?

Octavius has covered a lot of ground since being purchased by the Sullivan Street Partners in September 2021. They show no sign of slowing down. Sarah says she’s currently developing an annual ‘Leaving a Legacy’ project programme, delivered in different regions year on year. These will involve collaborations with community partners – and potentially other contractors too.

“They are our competition,” she says, “but we recognise that when we join forces the impact is far greater.”

Octavius is also keen to bring their supply chain along for the ride. The team is currently running a pilot scheme for supply chain partners to help them quantify their social value using Thrive.

“It’s really important for them to be able to share that with other clients and partners,” says Sarah, “and hopefully it will help them win bids as they don’t necessarily have resources or tools of their own.”

Recently supply chain member Environ successfully recorded their social value efforts for Octavius’ Clophill Roundabout project. Consequently, they were able to demonstrate their contribution to the £13.2 million total. They are now recording their data for their next project and expect to be able to do the same.

There is also the ongoing challenge of winning people in the business over to the social value way of thinking.

“We’ve got people who are fantastic at wearing the ‘social value hat’,” says Sarah, “and that creates a ripple effect within the business. But there are still some people we haven’t reached.”

A recent company acquisition will keep the team busy too:

“We need to identify the data collectors, educate them on social value and get them using the same tools,” says Sarah. “like we did right at the beginning with Octavius.”

With the support of the business, these social value experts are now working to hit a social value target in 2024/25 to be at least 30% of the company’s turnover and more than the £81 million in the previous year.

“That’s a mission in itself!” says Sarah. “But if we do all the other things right, we should naturally hit our target.”

It’s been an amazing journey – from the early days of capturing and evidencing the great work that was already happening to looking ahead and building something truly groundbreaking. We can’t wait to see what Octavius does next!