This study by Eli Hatleskog and Flora Samuel, winner of the RIBA President’s Awards for Research – cities and community, investigates how collaborative mapping of social value can help create cohesive, happy communities
Following the UK government’s Social Value Act, ‘Mapping Eco Social Assets’ explores how practitioners working in the urban environment can, co-design of maps with communities to capture and share attributes of a place which typically remain undervalued or hidden.
The research aimed to support negotiations across different points of view and contested interests. While it is generally agreed that broader involvement in planning and design processes can benefit society, specific approaches and methods often remain vague and do not link with the needs of local authorities. The research created and tested methods for inclusive architectural research which included not only local voices and interpretations, but also evolved in response to some of the real challenges and barriers faced by a local authority.
‘Social value’ is an ill-defined term often used to explore how limited resources can be put to best use, by examining the collective benefit, beyond cost savings, that allocation of public money can have. UK government organisations are supposed to make planning and spending decisions with regard to environmental, social and economic values, the triple bottom line of sustainability, that form the foundation of the Treasury Green Book. However, lack of consensus on how to measure social and environmental value means decisions typically focus on economic value. Without sufficient methods to discuss and promote alternate forms of value in the built environment, the current market driven approach will simply continue.
To explore local interpretations of social value, map-making methods were developed to collaboratively map Orts Road and Newtown, east of Reading. The activities supported broad discussions about values and assets which included different perspectives and interpretations. Without seeking to quantify values locally, the maps highlighted areas of interest and potential which could benefit from future development and/or investment. A novel asset-based spatial approach to social value was developed which evidenced social value at the neighbourhood scale in a format useful to decision-makers. The project demonstrated the agency of mapping methods that can generate co-produced urban knowledge, develop capacity and make arguments for value-responsive improvements and development.
Following public map-making workshops, multi-layered digital maps were drawn and discussed with the local authority. This supported reflections on how social values interacted and combined across the neighbourhood and connected with the town, and showed that values are interdependent and perform spatially. Since social values resist metrics, they are difficult to communicate to decision-makers, so we explored how ‘softer’ forms of data could be represented and how architectural practice research can translate local situated knowledge and values into an accessible format which provides consistent evidence that can support holistic decision-making and entrepreneurial approaches to working in the city.
The project highlighted some of the challenges of linking neighbourhood perspectives with local government processes. Values across the public sphere are often contested, which was apparent through the research. Strategic and innovative mapping can make opportunities to learn more about common values and to create robust approaches to developing potential in the urban environment. This route has many potential applications, such as: accurate definition of electoral boundaries based on community self-perception, participation in the co-creation of local development plans, city models that account for social value, building procurement based on social value outcomes, and the use of social value in planning. Most importantly social value can be used to help make an evidence-based case for resisting developments that are destructive to communities.
To understand social value in a complex and rich environment, our starting point was quite simply to ask people what they valued most locally. Conversations were structured around the planning and making of eco-social value maps. The process emphasised positive, existing assets and promoted discussions about what was appreciated most locally. The project developed a set of methods for evidencing social value spatially that can be replicated at different scales and locations. It raised awareness of the social value of places and buildings, something that needs to be factored into policy and procurement going forward particularly in the aftermath of Covid-19. It also began to consider ways in which social return on investment financial proxies might be used to monetise social value spatially, which has not been done before. Importantly for the profession, it modelled a potential role for architecture and planning professionals in supporting consultation for local development plans.
Cabinet Office, 2012. Public Services (Social Value) Act.
Carmona, M., Alwarea, A., Giordano, V., Olaleye, F. 2020, A Housing Design Audit for England.
HM Treasury. 2018. The Green Book.
Serin, B., Kenny, T., White, J., Samuel, F., 2018. Design Value at Neighbourhood Scale. Glasgow: CACHE.
Wilkinson, R. and Pickett K., 2018, The Inner Level: How more equal societies reduce stress, restore sanity and improve everyone’s well-being. London: Penguin.
Mapping Social Values by Eli Hatleskog and Flora Samuel is 2020 winner in RIBA President’s Awards for Research: Cities & Community