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How to value social outcomes in the nuclear sector

How to value social outcomes in the nuclear sector

Author: First published by the Nuclear Industry Association in Industry Link

Social, economic, and environmental value to society, is delivered through technical and professional solutions to improve lives as well as by investing in local communities and maximising social impact to leave a lasting legacy.

We recognise the role personal wellbeing has in better life actions, improved mental health and social relationships, higher productivity and improved skills and educational outcomes. It fuels social mobility and allows people to feel valued as part of their community. It helps people feel connected to the environment in which they live. Communities and people need our support to ensure their futures and their environments are sustainable.

In this article, John Edwards, Discipline Lead, Environment, Sustainability & Social Value and Trevor Brown, Sellafield Project Director, help to define social value and spotlight the work being undertaken in Cumbria as part of Costain’s role in the Nexus Decommissioning Alliance, supporting Sellafield on its Decommissioning Delivery Partnership (DDP).

Defining social value

Social value is a long-term commitment made by an organisation to create a positive return for all stakeholders through collective impact. According to Social Value International, social value is defined as the quantification of the relative importance that people place on the changes they experience in their lives.

At Costain, we define social value as the action we take to improve people’s wellbeing, whether that’s through the services we provide or the way we operate. The social outcomes and the shared value we create, help address critical national needs and contribute to the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The principles that underpin our approach – minimising our impact on the environment and supporting the communities we work in – are also driving change across all industries. They’re at the heart of the Public Services (Social Value) Act, which was introduced in 2012 and has led to a more robust stance on sustainability during the procurement of major projects. And they’re important to our stakeholders, who are more informed and empowered than ever before and expect us to change people’s lives for the better.

Our experience in working with clients to maximise the social value on schemes, both as consultant and programme manager, means we understand the realities of improving people’s lives through the life of a project, as well as beyond. It also makes us acutely aware of the pitfalls of looking at social value through too narrow a lens.

No two areas of the UK are the same, so the way people in each community define value will differ. Supporting people into jobs may be a national priority and a worthwhile endeavour in a town struggling to address worklessness. But it’s less so if that’s not a challenge that members of that community face.


A sustainable approach to resilient communities

Social value needs to be sufficiently broad for us to make decisions and shift to a values-based approach in our business cases. For infrastructure assets, the value can be both the intrinsic, and the extrinsic impact of the asset, on the wellbeing of society, throughout its lifecycle.

Intrinsic value is the social value ‘belonging naturally and essential’ to an asset. An example of this is the Tideway project where the intrinsic value of the super sewer is in cleaning up the river Thames. The intrinsic value is an important part of ‘why’ the asset is being built.

Extrinsic value is the wider value over and above the intrinsic value of the asset and is not essential to the functioning of the asset. On Tideway, this was social value that is not essential to the delivery of the project.

Clearly defining the extrinsic social value wanted from the Tideway project from the beginning has shaped the project delivery from procurement, through to community and staff engagement. The community volunteering, the work with people who were not in employment, education or training, skills and development programmes, and the biodiversity planning, were not essential to the delivery of the asset itself, but they have all amplified the positive impact of this multibillion-pound capital investment programme. Choices like this help to achieve our vision for a built environment that delivers better outcomes for people and the planet.

Social value is a fundamental shift in thinking and, therefore, this needs to be undertaken collaboratively with all of the stakeholders.

The lives of individuals and their communities can be transformed by proactively seeking out positive social and economic outcomes that create social value: you become part of the community and you can realise the opportunities to do more than deliver the project on time and on budget. The potential of the infrastructure industry at large to contribute more to the economic and social prosperity of the UK is an additional driver to do social value better on each and every scheme.

Research that Costain is leading, and years of delivering targeted social value on complex programmes, highlights some issues with defining and measuring social value effectively such as the value being created changes over time and varies between industries and regions.

What does that mean for infrastructure owners and operators and the delivery supply chain? How can we demonstrate what good looks like and evidence improvement if it’s difficult to benchmark and measure? And what impact will it have on alternative financing options, such as social impact investing? The increased level of green financing is likely to increase the need for even more robust reporting on social value and it may be that improving visibility and trust in social outcomes could reduce the cost of finance for infrastructure projects.


Contributing to communities in Cumbria

Costain (as part of the Nexus Decommissioning Alliance) has been supporting Sellafield on its Decommissioning Delivery Partnership (DDP) since it commenced in 2016. The Framework is a long term 10-year contract enabling accelerated risk and hazard reduction, providing capacity and capability to deliver decommissioning tasks and projects.

The DDP social impact plan has been developed in alignment with Sellafield’s social impact objectives: Resilient Economies, Thriving Communities, Social Value Chains, Sustainable Incomes, Collective Impact, and Improve Performance, as well as SiX, Sellafield’s new social impact programme.


Activity to drive economic growth, sustainable workforces, and improved wellbeing

  1. Creating a thriving, dynamic and multi-purpose youth and community hub The DDP, with Costain taking a lead, is supporting the renovation of a community centre that’s not only a safe space for local young people, but will provide a range of positive activities, interventions, and services to all members of the community with the aim of significantly improving wellbeing, aspirations and community engagement.
  2. Wellbeing and mental health support Costain has been a collaborative partner supporting a range of valuable initiatives and projects driven by Alison Young from The Decommissioning Alliance. These have included local mental health first aider courses, the Brilliant Cumbria initiative which centres on building resilience in school children and the Terry Newton Grass Roots Project, a project that works with West Cumbria’s rugby and football clubs, breaking down mental health stigma, supporting with suicide prevention and raising mental health awareness.
  3. Leaving a legacy for future generations Focus has been given to activities that create self-reliance and independence and access to sustainable incomes beyond Sellafield by increasing skills, knowledge, aspirations and access to communities. As an example, Costain recruited four young people from the Phoenix Youth Project to research and prepare a community action plan in Cleator Moor. Residents identified a need for healthy eating guidance, a desire for financial management to be brought into the curriculum for primary school children, and a stakeholder forum to bring key actors in the community together to effect real change.

Infrastructure professionals are recognising that this is our moment to shift that paradigm towards value-based decision-making. Communities need support to ensure their futures and environments are sustainable. Infrastructure can have a central role in better life actions, improved mental health, higher productivity and improved skills and educational outcomes for local communities, why would you not design all projects with value-based outcomes?


To discover more visit our Defence page or email John Edwards to understand how you can maximise social value on your project: