Take It or Leave it. Or Change It.
More or less predictably, the jab-cross combination of Economic Recession and Skills Gap has landed a significant blow to the business-as-usual mentality of the UK Construction Industry. After three long years of ducking and diving along the line of zero profit, the bell of economy recovery rang again, marking the beginning of another round of industrial growth. As the seconds were out we found ourselves short of breath and flimsy on our feet with fresh resources desperately needed in order to compete on the big ring of national GDP. Something had to change. For starters, our fighting stance was too bold and pompous or, in other words, from the notorious male, pale and stale hystorical stereotype, the construction sector had to substantially re think its shape. Changing the Image of Construction has become the synthetic formula for a number of initiatives aiming at embracing the Equality Act 2010. Not only our stance needed to change, also our punches were pretentious and inaccurate losing precious resources in clumsy and approximate movements. From retrofitting to waste management, Construction had made an habit of filling skips with precious materials. Focusing on resources as much as energy and materials, the Built Environment has become more aware of the importance of lean operations protocols, which unlock the door for more accurate metrics. Once again the industry resonated to the ubiquitous mantra: ‘if you can measure it, you can improve it.’
The issue of better measuring in the digital age means data: Big Data, Open Data and Fast Data. The ideology of data, notwithstanding the risks of selective aggregation, has raised the bar of whole life accountability making construction outcome more measureable, precise and reliable. Procurement has then followed data and measured outcome in fashinating ways but this is not to be discussed here.
The post economic recession skills shortage has merged together the ethical awareness brewed in the movements for health&safety and sustainability with the scientific aspiration of an evidence driven modelling approach, derived from Smart City and BIM. Ethical awareness and scientific aspiration combined, gives us: Social Value.
Whether your approach to social value in construction is more ethical (i.e. as derived from public policies) or should your interest be grounded in the scientific benefits of a well functioning society (i.e. as resulting from social cost/benefit analysis), chances are that you see a gain in social value as a desired outcome of our industry. The debate on social value, facilitated by the long lasting legacy of the 2012 Olympics and major infrastructural projects, is today extremely poignant and highlighted by this conference. Some of the most innovative companies out there are placing social value at the core of their mission. New business models define themselves: “Voluntary organisations open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination”. Does it sound new?
Social Value is not new at all. The organisational definition mentioned above was in fact the manifesto of the Rochdale Pioneers also known as the first Cooperative in world’s history. This was 1844. What is interesting about the beginning of the cooperative movement is that the fundamental concept was not necessarily to be altruistic. The Rochdale Pioneers needed to hack their way through the market to make essential products affordable for a larger number of people with limited purchasing power. Access to market was made possible by cutting profit out and by re-injecting all financial surplus back into the business. The coop business model, combined with the democratic management principle of one-person-one-vote, made cooperative organisations a fast growing phenomenon, which, perhaps due to its size, in later years has caused some management issues.
If the UK Cooperatives could look better, in other countries cooperatives are thriving and social value is strongly enrooted in many of these organisations’ business case. We looked abroad among such companies to find interesting examples of social value metrics.
It is important to point out that there are many hurdles to producing an assessment of the social value or impact of a project. Fist of all, value is not objective but it emerges from the interaction of supply and demand, and ultimately reflects what people or organisazions are willing to pay. Secondly is the issue of additionality. Additionality is all about the marginal difference a project makes, and what value it adds. Additionality measures what would have happened if the project didn’t take place at all.
In the attempt to address both above mentioned issue, the longest established Italian cooperative professional consultancy has developed an interesting method.
The social value evaluation method is called Potenziale di Comunità ©, it is focused on the change in social value delivered at community level by urban transformation projects and has been successfully used in a number of urban planning and urban regeneration projects across many Italian cities. In Potenziale di Comunità, value is defined by stakeholders and the additionality benchmark is provided by the urban context surrounding the project site. The tool measures the accessibility of services, amenities and urban welfare for pedestrians within reach at the walking distance of 400 meters (the parameter can be changed although practice has highlighted such distance to provide the most accurate results). Potenziale di Comunità is both an engagement process and a measuring method. At the outset of the application the list of services, amenities and urban welfare is presented to the stakeholder community. Most of the time this is represented by the Local Authority although private organisations or residents groups could also participate. Helped by a moderator, the stakeholder group defines the specific relevance of each category of urban services using a scale from 0 to 1. Where 0 is totally irrelevant and 1 is totally relevant.
On a GIS reference map, all urban services (including but not limited to schools, hospitals, parks, retail, parking, transports et.c.) are mapped by placing a 400 meters radius circle above each urban service location, which will be called node from now on. The more nodes accessible from within the same 400 meters walking distance, the higher the Potenziale di Comunità score will be.
Accessibility is calculated by imposing on the maps of nodes a grid of obstacles and gateways. Above a certain volume of traffic, roads become, like other infrastructure or large urban blocks, an obstacle. Quieter roads along with pedestrian crossings, bridges and step free underground links provide gateways.
The GIS database of nodes, obstacles and gateways is processed by a bespoke algorithm, which generates the Potenziale di Comunità maps.
The coloured maps show intuitively the concentration and accessibility of urban services and can be compared to evaluate various modelled project options or be rendered before and after the urban transformation to assess whether the desired social value gain has actually been achieved. Alternatively, numeric tables can be produced for a quantitative rather than qualitative assessment of Social Value fluctuation.
Potenziale di Comunità has been developed by the longest established Italian professional consultancy cooperative called CAIRE (Cooperativa Architetti e Ingegneri Reggio Emilia) Urbanistica which was founded in 1947. It is worth to note that the city of Reggio Emilia is in Emilia Romagna, by far the Italian region with best ratio between quality of social welfare and economic growth. CAIRE Urbanistica is a multidisciplinary consultancy focused on urban planning, their products spanning from regional planning to urban design, from energy planning to environmental assessment and from transport modelling to smart city apps.
For more info visit www.caire.it