The Seven Principles of Social Value are not individually remarkable, they have been drawn from principles underlying sustainability reporting, cost benefit analysis, and evaluation practice. What is unique is how they focus on addressing the information required to account for the social value of an initiative and inform better decision making.
It’s fundamental to all principles
Principle 1 is about Involving Stakeholders. Its position in the list underscores how fundamental it is to understanding social value and to all other principles. Ensuring you hear from your stakeholders is a first and essential step to understanding relative value of outcomes, making materiality decisions and being transparent about the role you play in creating change. It also emphasises that those affected by, or affecting, the initiative under analysis are best placed to articulate the social value.
A recent survey by Social Value International found that 83% of respondents involve (or recommend involving) stakeholders in deciding which outcomes to measures – a higher % than the application of any other Principle  but there is room for improvement, as even with groups that are difficult to access or have particular sensitivities (young children, people with certain health issues, participants that have dropped out), you can seek out others who may be able to speak on their behalf.
Groups aren’t generic
The first stage of stakeholder involvement is identifying those who you want to involve (and how) and be comprehensive at this stage. Even if your initiative offers a generic service to all clients, remember the perception of value gained from utilising a service can be very different based on the needs, characteristics and context of individuals. For example:
- You may have rural clients (with limited access to any other services), younger clients (who may place different values on outcomes based on the stage of their lives), clients from different cultural backgrounds (with smaller social networks).
- You may have different funders with varying expectations or perceptions of the value created – for one it may be about employee engagement, for another about contributing to a local community.
It is therefore important to really understand and segment your stakeholders into groups and this might be an iterative process based on your increasing understanding of the sub groups.
How much should I do?
There are usually two phases of stakeholder involvement; a qualitative phase (interviews, focus groups) in which a sample of stakeholders are engaged to establish an informed hypothesis about what changes and then a quantitative phase in which data is collected from a larger sample to quantify the changes.
What’s the right sample size for interviews? We’ve all asked this question but what you should first ask is what am I doing this for…
- where the exercise is undertaken to start to think about social value in the context of program design or formulating a theory of change, it is more important that you involve a representative group of stakeholders rather than worry too much about how many you speak with
- where you are analysing a program that has been running for years, consider the saturation point: Keep engaging with stakeholders until each additional interview is not giving you any new perspectives or describing any other changes.
Now that you’ve established a stakeholder engagement plan setting out who to involve and how, you can go ahead and start asking questions like “what changed for you as a result of participating in this program? What would have you done if you hadn’t taken part? How much did others contribute to the change besides our program?” but now we’re straying into Principle 2…
To learn more about Involving Stakeholders and contribute to the ongoing discussion around standardising the Principles, have a look here.
Taimur Siddiqi and Arjun Ravi, The Incus Group, April 2018
The Incus Group is a Foundation Member of SIMNA