Award-winning communications experts in the built environment

In search of legitimacy and the role of social value


How can investors work with local communities to create a better built environment? An underlying ‘legitimacy gap’, between the commercial needs of investors and the societal needs of communities, is impacting the debate around when, where and why investment in our built environment should happen.

Looking seriously at the social value of new development is one route towards ensuring that the needs of a local community are integrated into the design, construction and future use of them. It also provides an opportunity for investors to look beyond the economic and financial justifications for new developments.

Research by Arup suggests that there is a positive correlation between the acceptance of a proposed development by local communities and the level of engagement they had with investors during the design and construction phase. In BECG’s experience it isn’t just the level of collaboration with communities that is important but the issues such collaboration focuses around.

It isn’t a one-way street. Thinking seriously about the social value of a project offers new metrics that can be used to measure the costs/benefits of an investment which can be placed alongside more traditional analysis. This is particularly important for public service contracts as legislation requires the measurement and articulation of social value as part of the outcomes they are seeking to achieve.

What does this mean in practice:

  1. It requires a genuine commitment from an investor to understand what the societal needs of a host community is early in the design process.
  2. Greater collaboration between project teams, public service providers and local residents.
  3. Consideration of issues around health and wellbeing, community cohesion, crime and safety and inclusion and diversity during the design phase.
  4. Avoiding the transactional: social value should be an end in itself and not used as part of a broader PR / CSR strategy.

The more thought that is given to social value during the design and construction phase, the easier it is for local stakeholders to understand how they will benefit from new development.

Good thinking around social value also provides opportunities for positive media coverage and brand awareness. This isn’t just important for improving perceptions about individual developments – particularly if they are long-term developments – but are also helpful for the wider perception of investment in our built environment.

BECG is working with a number of clients who are committed to social value and the benefits it brings to communities. With trust between members of the public and ‘big business’ at an all-time low; investors should be looking more carefully at the wider benefits of their proposals to overcome the ‘legitimacy gap’.

We have a seven-strong team from BECG attending MIPIM 2019 where we be hosting a private breakfast event with Arup to discuss the importance of social value to the private sector. You can follow the debate at #BECGconversation

Kevin Whitmore BECG
Written by: Kevin Whitmore


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