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GLASS-HOUSE CHATS: Building Social Value into Design and Placemaking

Posted on 17 March 2021

Written by:

Sophia de Sousa

Building Social Value into Design and Placemaking (12 March 2021)

This chat aimed to explore how we can be more strategic in how we integrate social value and impact into the processes of shaping our places. We were keen to explore not only the social impact of the built outcomes of placemaking, but also the journey of change itself, and what it has to offer in terms of social value opportunities.

Key questions raised 

Key themes

Our discussion went in and out of projects that our participants had been involved in delivering, and we were eager to explore what had been the challenges as well as things that had worked well. There was the inevitable reflection on how the landscape had changed during lockdown, and that many really interesting and engaged projects had been disrupted or had to be reimagined. However, there was also some delight in the innovation and learning to use new digital tools. All agreed though, that how these were used was instrumental in their accessibility and inclusivity, and ultimately on the social value they could help create.

Facilitation and enabling

We agreed that a key condition of creating social value in design and placemaking is inviting people into the conversation through accessible and inclusive processes and spaces, and through placing a clear value on and objective for accessibility and inclusion. 

It is not enough to open up a conversation, it needs to be facilitated and enabled by people who have the skills and confidence to invite diverse viewpoints and agendas in. Being willing to embrace, manage and explore differences of opinion is an important gateway to creating social value from the outset, building understanding, respect and empathy within a diverse community by valuing what everyone has to offer and to say. Breaking down barriers and building social networks is not often seen as an objective of standard consultation practices, but is a real social value opportunity through meaningful engagement. 

We also explored the importance of the physical spaces for these conversations and what might happen there. Food and drink, making activities and cultural events can help create a point of entry, but can also simply be a backdrop for more focused design engagement activities. Being playful and serious are not mutually exclusive, and creating spaces that attract a broad range of people not just to be consulted, but where they can socialise, create, and connect is another key route to creating social value.

Building a community of practice

We agreed that building a community of practice was essential to mainstreaming social value as a core objective in design and placemaking. However, once we drilled down a bit on what we meant by the term, two quite different types of communities emerged. 

There is perhaps the obvious community of practice linked to design, development and regeneration professions. Thinking across sectors, but in the realm of professional practice, there is a great deal we could do to build a shared understanding of social value. We talked about building skills and confidence, growing local relationships and networks, creating opportunities for social mobility, but also just making life better for people in a variety of ways. There is also therefore work to be done in helping practising professionals think outside their boxes to build social value into their processes as well as their outcomes. 

We can also look at community of practice within a place-based context. How can we create ways of working within a place that gives all of the players within it a sense of agency, and clear ways to work together on shared objectives. Could a values-driven approach to setting ways of working together help achieve this? Should we be starting from values?

Measuring social value

Creating a clear metric for measuring social value is not easy, particularly in the context of placemaking. Each place is different and our places are constantly changing and evolving, as are the people within them, so there is never really a clear beginning, middle and end. However, when we start to look at a process for change linked to a particular initiative or project, there are some things we can usefully consider.  

We talked about the difference between statistical and anecdotal data, and the importance of gathering both. We can use a variety of data, to inform decision making on the project throughout the process, and also to evaluate the very experience of taking part in that process. 

We also talked about the different layers and scales of social value and the importance of considering impact from a variety of perspectives. Transforming our places effects us at an individual level, within our families and social circles, within our communities of interest and of place. Changes may influence our individual and collective experience and indeed our interaction with each other. Design and placemaking can also bring about organisational and institutional change, affecting how an organisation operates within its own walls, and how it relates to the people and organisations, and indeed the environment, around them. 

We know there are a number of social values tools out there, and it is important to explore these, and to test them. In order to further develop our metrics for social value, we must also be willing to constantly test and evolve how we define social value and the value we place on it as an integral part of design and placemaking.

You can book on for our April and May Glass-House Chats below.

April: Glass-House Chats: Design engagement – what does it mean?

May: Digitising Design Engagement