This is the second article in our Social Value Aotearoa Principles Series, looking at Principle 2: Understand what changes.
So as far as the SV International Principles of Social Value document goes: This means you must articulate how change is created and evaluate this through evidence gathered, recognizing positive and negative changes as well as those that are intended and unintended. This requires a *theory* of how these different changes are created, which is informed by stakeholders and supported by evidence. These changes are the OUTCOMES of the activity.
So outcomes should be measured in order to provide evidence that the change has taken place – this can be tricky.
Because change isn’t always linear – it contradicts mathematical structures. Understanding what changes helps us to identify the value created in that specific situation, specific to the needs of the various stakeholders involved. So when you are looking at change, in order to understand it, you actually have to take into account what your ideal case scenario is, whether that is a dollar figure or a social or environmental outcome, in terms of creating value.
How we define value is a hot and heavy moot point indeed. I recently (nerdily) rediscovered the joys of JStor and with Social Value on the brain I found myself thoroughly enjoying a quite dense article by historian and economist, Philip Mirowski, who philosophized about “the meaning of a dollar” and how too often, “the problem with modern economic discourse is it doesn’t take value seriously.” Hear ye, hear ye.
Mirowski asserts that the poor darn word is often seen as, “idiosyncratic and unfettered and simultaneously that value is determinate and scientific and tough-minded and irrefutable.” Value is often used as a synonym for price and then it is also something we consider as our moral compass. So the bridge between all of this is articulating change and providing evidence in order to understand what it is that we are valuing.
One of the most talked about sessions at Critical Mass was with PWC’s global leader in sustainability and climate change, Malcolm Preston. He really got us going with UNDERSTANDING CHANGE as we played decision makers in his Grow locally / Import exercise. We looked at an example in which we were *hypothetically* looking at opening a brewery in a small and impoverished African community, the question being: would we grow our own barley locally or import?
With 75% of the room flashing bright green “Grow Locally” (of course) decision cards it seemed this was a moral no-brainer. But as more changes were revealed, both negative and positive, the audience shifted and a dull roar of changed minds started to gather. At one point the room was divided 50/50 given that we were told water was especially precious in Africa (of course), therefore measured at eight times more valuable in this community than the import option.
BUT with improved livelihood of farmers and trickledown effect for families, improved local farming knowledge which would presumably lead to increased empowerment to community and self-sustainability we began to understand what these changes really meant and the room came back to an 80% consensus – Green: Grow Locally.
Import or grow local? @PwC_UK take #criticalmass15 through the social & environmental impacts of both https://t.co/g3jQ5c2OMe
— Pioneers Post (@PioneersPost) October 20, 2015
So that journey really enlightened us to how important it is, the more we understand these changes and how they affect the community socially and environmentally, the clearer we can articulate how and why we have made the decision based on what we value. We see the importance of understanding the many shades of change for stronger data, better OUTCOMES, and a clearer idea of the diverse values people have depending on their position in life.
This brings me back to that riveting article, as Mr Mirowski pointed out: “Nothing in human experience is perfectly invariant, perfectly identical, or perfectly reversible.”
“Any time there is a demand for a formal definition of equivalence, a quantitative specification of invariance, and an explanation of change by linking it to not-change, a western-thinker will be drawn tropistically to some principles of conservation.”
Value has had a tough run with so many denying it as anything more than a dollar and then others asserting a complete comprehension of its contours.
And because of the mystifications of human social values it is especially important to look closely at how these changes occur and where – and UNDERSTAND them. As consumers moral values change, the price value of goods and services fluctuates. The definition of value is constantly in motion between these.
This Principle is key because it asks us to look closely at the changes and evaluate holistically and on a human level: What we value. “Value, as everyone knows, is about prices, but it is also about much more than prices. It analyses fundamental beliefs concerning why seemingly diverse objects and human endeavours are comparable; and even more outlandishly how such comparisons can be reduced to a single denominator of number.”
We’ve got to start telling stories and finding new ways to understand the change, value, and each other.
By applying these Principles we are able to create a consistent and credible account for the value that is being created or destroyed. The outcomes, and the measures and values of outcomes, can remain specific to the context, activity, and the stakeholders involved. When applied, the Principles also create an account that recognises that the level of rigour required depends on the needs of the audience and the decisions that will be taken.