We love the idea of Community Benefits – the ambition and legislative push to ensure that local communities reap wider rewards from the money spent by their local authority is to be applauded. However, over the past several years, it has become clear that despite best intentions the benefit isn’t always reaching the intended community.
We’ve worked in two Local Authority Areas in Scotland to help create practical and effective solutions. In 2019, we worked with Perth & Kinross Council to develop Scotland’s first Community Benefits Wish List and this year, we worked with Clackmannanshire TSI and Clackmannanshire Council to create an interactive version.
The concept is simple. Third sector organisations are supported to submit requests detailing what they need. Procurers and suppliers can easily access this list and identify the asks that most align with either the contracts underway, the services they provide or both.
We have been delighted with the response. Perth & Kinross Council were awarded a GO Award for Social Value, and the new version, created with Clacks TSI, is even easier to use for all stakeholders. With every iteration we improve the model, continuing to aid both the public and private sector to integrate and account for social impact.
This work is not part of our ‘core business’ but our team is well connected with experience across sectors, and we can really see the value – for all of us - in helping the public sector to get this right.
We are so proud of the role we played in creating this concept. It’s such a simple but transformative idea and we are really excited that it has inspired other local authorities and procurers all across Scotland to create their own. These include Dumbartonshire’s Social Benefits List, East Renfrewshire’s Wishlist Map, and an initiative by the Capital City Partnership for a number of Local Authorities including Edinburgh, the Lothians, and Fife. NHS Scotland are also about to launch a version shortly.
From something simple like a Google Form to a bespoke website (like this lovely one for the Cumbria Exchange, to an ‘off the shelf’ product, you’ll still need to invest time and effort to ensure that your wishlist grows more impactful each year, rather than fizzling out with a whimper. Here are our top tips:
1. Make it easy.
Simple is often best. If there’s too much ‘friction’ involving long forms and fiddly digital processes, the volunteers who run the groups will be put off, and the variety of requests you receive will be limited. There is no need to make an easy process into one that appears daunting or overly time consuming.
Think about the information that your suppliers really need in order to decide if they can grant a wish or not. Our original wishlist submission form for Clacks was cut almost in half after speaking to suppliers to find out what they cared about. Minimising the questions has two benefits: it’s quicker for charities to fill out the form; and easier for suppliers who don’t need to wade through acres of text to figure out what they are being asked for. On that note, word limits are your friend too – it really encourages people to be clear about what they need.
Automate as much of the data collection as you can (Google and Microsoft Forms are both good for populating spreadsheets from questionnaires) but have an alternative for people who struggle with digital access. For procurers with larger budgets there are also bespoke software systems such as Cenefits and the Social Value Exchange. Just remember you can automate data collection, but you can’t automate the nurturing that is a key requirement for success (see point 3 below).
2. Use multiple channels to reach out and engage with your community groups.
Samtaler means conversation in Danish so, unsurprisingly, communication is key to our approach. Speak to everyone who will use the wishlist, before, during and after development.
Focus groups with suppliers, your internal stakeholders and procurement team and community groups will help you to create a wishlist that people will not only use themselves, but tell others about. Seek to understand what they do now, their challenges and how they think things could be improved. Find out about the processes and systems they have to satisfy, as well as the practical things like how they like to access information. For the third sector, it helps to understand the environment they are operating in, who would typically be completing it, how approvals and governance works and what they need in order to actively contribute wishes.
Don’t just rely on email. Pick up the phone, set up a video call or, when it’s allowed, hold an in-person event. It’s often tempting just to send out a survey and then begin designing the wishlist, but speaking to people will be far more helpful, both in terms of the mechanics of your process, and the sustainability and impact of your finished product.
3. Your wishlist will need nurturing
Great communication shouldn’t stop when your wishlist is live. After the launch event, you’ll want to have sessions throughout the year to ensure that everyone knows about the wishlist and how to use us. Include it in your regular supplier communication and contract materials and see if your TSI can facilitate opportunities to remind the Third Sector of what it is and how to use it.
Send regular emails to suppliers with the updated list and celebrate success stories far and wide. Once people can see the list working, it will get more use, which means more opportunities to grant wishes, and it becomes a beautiful circle. However, this work needs to be done by someone. The wishlist can be automated, but it will be much more effective if you have a person who is responsible for communication with suppliers, particularly at key points in the contract and answering questions from the third sector.
There's also an important point about what ‘good’ wishes might be, and having a person on the end of the phone to review submissions will make the list much more likely to work. Lots of people in the third sector won’t know what community benefits are, and even some suppliers are stuck in a default mode, rolling out a standard benefit which isn’t actually what your community needs.
4. Suppliers aren’t charities.
Nor are they bottomless pits with unlimited resources. It’s tough for businesses out there right now and public sector contracts generally don’t offer huge margins, so don’t think of it as asking them to give you stuff for free - it will just increase the price they charge you.
It can be tempting for charities to ask for money, and while that might be helpful, the truth is that often that will just drive up the cost of your contract. We are looking to create reciprocal relationships where suppliers are asked to provides services and products to the local community that they already have expertise in. So a construction company might pave a carpark, a landscaper might donate topsoil or labour, someone in a bigger company might provide their web developer for a period of time, or provide HR templates and policies. This approach works for a number of reasons. For suppliers, it engages more of their staff in community benefits, and that ‘warm glow’ is great for staff retention. It’s also things that build on their expertise and shouldn’t drive up costs, either for them or for their customer.
So for the third sector, or community groups, you need to emphasise it is not about money but more about what they feel that money would get them. Spend time helping them identify what their needs are - they may not have had an opportunity to ever consider this. A good way to start is to ask them to think about what they would spend money on if they had it and if you have particular contracts coming up, ask your TSI to facilitate a meeting to allow them to learn more about the kind of companies who are likely to bid, and therefore the wishes that they might usefully grant.
5. Act as a matchmaker between contracts and communities.
Being proactive is important. Think about the kinds of contracts you’re tendering and then identify community and third sector groups that ‘match’ the kinds of suppliers who will deliver them - this is where the magic happens. The work is done for you when a heating systems supplier can help a charity working to combat fuel poverty, or when a financial services company can assist an organisation which supports people with debt problems.
We hope these pointers provide a useful start to your initiative. When we spoke to Berry Jordan from Vattenfall about community benefits, she described the goal as being a reciprocal relationship between business and the community, benefitting both parties, and delivering positive long-term change. A Community Benefits Wish List is a great step towards the kind of communication that achieves this. We also had an interesting chat with Carol Glenn, Social Value Manager at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, where she shares her top tips for public sector procurers creating social value.
At Samtaler, we’re thrilled to see more organisations approaching Social Value in such a hands-on way. There are numerous ways that the concept can be adapted to best fit the sector at hand and, when done properly, community benefits are hugely beneficial at both ends of the deal. When done badly, however, they are costly and place additional burdens on suppliers. We're happy to contribute our expertise to assist with the process, from getting started, development, all the way through to delivery.
Get in touch if you’d like to work on a similar initiative for your organisation, and if you have any takes on this straight forward but innovative approach to social impact.