Insights article

Embedding social value in master plans through early engagement and post-occupancy reviews

Sebastian Weise
Published: 25/04/2019

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Why should we care about social value in master planning?

It has never been more important for housebuilders to define and quantify the benefits their projects have for the areas where they built. In England, the drive to deliver up to 300,000 new homes each year put the emphasis on volume over quality and, as some argued, have come at a detriment of quality.

We need an agenda based on building quality developments, that stand the test of time, not only in terms of 'raw' performance numbers but also in terms of the ability to build strong quality communities that have access to the social amenities for a good life. This extra benefit an investment can have on the surrounding area can be referred to as the 'social value'. 

In the current climate, a focus on social value can become a selling point for developers, as buyers look for a better quality of life, walkable neighbourhoods, and access to local amenities. Follow a number of distinct benefits for developers who follow an agenda of quality based on social value, through things such as commitment to early engagement and regular, systematic reviews:

  • As Social Value UK points out, the ‘soft benefits’ of a scheme have a genuine impact on what the developer can achieve at market prices.
  • Since the 2012 Public Services (Social Value) Act, social value is also a consideration in the weighing of planning permissions and local planning in the UK.
  • Project owners who can comfortably evidence social value in their scheme have an advantage at planning application stage through the additional support it can generate.
  • By quantifying the benefits a previous scheme has delivered to local areas, residents and the new communities they built, those housebuilders are in a powerful position to start a positive dialogue and persuade stakeholders to back their new project.

How to incorporate consideration for social value throughout the development process?

There are a few easy things to do to embed social value in master-planned schemes at different times of the construction value cycle. 

At its heart, social value is about the process as well as the outcomes. 



Building back better through a robust design process

Early engagement can be easier and even more powerful if it does not come as a surprise, but instead is part of the organisations' approach. And indeed, if the organisation consistently captures lessons learned from previous projects and incorporates them as feeder in early-engagement stages, it has a great appeal for participants and local residents. 

To incorporate a learning process into a development portfolio, developers would need to create a consistent policy for delivering post-occupancy reviews on a larger share of their projects, and develop a capacity to engage early on for new sites. A consistent process for community engagement and follow-up has the potential to capture robust insights into the success of development at the design stage and beyond.

It is important to determine the suitable formats and timing of engagement in retrospect. On the high-level, the choices are between bespoke, personal-intensive reviews of a scheme, or a more standardised can consistent method of reviewing their new surroundings with occupants via digital survey tools. 

There is no doubt, that detailed qualitative post-occupancy evaluations with buyers are an excellent method to gather in-depth insights and capturing lessons-learned on a wide range of levels, from the internal aspects of the accommodation to wider urban design-related questions. Often there's a benefit also to consider other stakeholders, that were key to the delivery. 

Digital and online methods present can present a lower-cost and convenient approach for occupants to feedback on specific aspects of their new environment. Digital tools also stand the greatest chance to become part and parcel of your approach to design and development, which in turn can become a key part of marketing new projects to future buyers. Easy-to-use online tools help to embed community feedback at critical stages of the design process, as well as automating the opportunity to learn from designs that worked well later on. 

Get in touch with us to learn how to embed a consistent approach to follow-up for your development projects.

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