A common misperception among those who are concerned about the practically of producing societal value calculations is that there are insufficient metrics available to do this work. In fact, the numerical and monetary data that can be used for this purpose is widely and freely available. Most of the sources of this information will be familiar to researchers with a background or training in the social sciences.

The collection of social and environmental metrics can take place at two different stages of a review. It is helpful, often as early in the concept stage of a project, to understand the area in which development is taking place in terms of the socio-economic indicators (health, crime, education attainment etc.), and the presence or absence of social infrastructure (clinics, schools, skills and training centres, cultural and leisure facilities etc.). This helps to map the area to identify social and environmental gaps, or assets to be preserved or enhanced. It also helps to characterise the population and identify pockets of need and possibly untapped human capital that would benefit the sustainability of the development. Sources and accessibility to socio-economic and social infrastructure metrics vary from country to country, but in the UK, they can be obtained from (for example):

  • Local authority web pages and records
  • Office for National Statistics or ONS such as:

- Official labour market statistics

- Census statistics

- Economic output and activity

- People, population and community

  • Government department sites (Home Office, Department of Justice, Department of Health and Social Care, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, etc.)
  • Index of multiple deprivation
  • Lower layer super output areas

There are many sources for this type of data, but more detailed or specialised issues may have been covered in greater depth by academic studies or research carried out by think tanks or professional bodies. The combined data from these sources can be compiled to form the base case for any subsequent quantification of the changes that the development will bring about in the area.

Metrics are also collected and used when societal value is monetised. In the field of social return on investment these are known as proxy values as they represent changes to people’s lives based on both market and non-market sources. In each case, the valuer is looking for the price of the unit of measurement chosen to represent the change. If the unit of measurement is the number of visits to the family doctor, then the proxy value will be the cost to the NHS to see a patient at a GP surgery for the average consultation time for that area for example.

A large number of metrics can be found on the Global Value Exchange site maintained by Social Value UK. Individual values can be found from a large number of sources, some of which are:

  • Unit costs for health treatment: Costs Book (Scotland), Department of Health Reference Costs (England), Kings Fund
  • Unit costs for crime: Ministry of Justice, Home Office, Youth Justice Board, academic studies
  • Unit costs for the provision and benefits of education and skills: Department for Education, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Work Foundation, academic studies
  • Unit costs for wellbeing and the effect of poverty: Publications by HACT, academic studies, Department of Work and Pension, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Unit costs for ecological impacts: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Valuation Database, The Land Trust, academic studies

This list of sources is not exhaustive. Indeed, there are many other potential data sites and repositories where metrics may be sourced. For an experienced researcher, the acquisition of the relevant informant to carry out the analysis of societal value need not be complicated or time-consuming. The depth of any analysis will be dependent on the scope of the investigation, the scale of development and the number of stakeholders it is likely to affect. However, the information required to produce well-evidenced, transparent analysis in the UK and many other countries is often readily available to those who are skilled to find it.

Generating societal value from people’s experiences and metrics

It should be possible for any built environment valuer to collect and collate information about societal value in the same way that they are used to carrying out a conventional financial return on investment analysis. As this report indicates, the availability of metrics, and the guidance on the skills required to obtain experiential accounts from stakeholders is now freely available.

Following a simple step-by-step process set out in more detail by Social Value International, this method can be used to both predict and evaluate post-completion development schemes. Figure 3 shows how metrics, the accounts of stakeholders, and factors that affect their lives can be combined to predict and forecast the societal value of planned development. Figure 4 show a similar process for the evaluation of societal value of completed development.

Figure 3: Linking metrics, accounts and factors to predict the societal value of development

Figure 4: Linking metrics, accounts and factors to evaluate the societal value of development