So, how do we measure value?

There’s a toolkit for that


Jenny Hughes, Climate Change and Social Value Manager at Stantec, wants to put sustainability and social value at the heart of all projects, and turn values into outcomes

Good decisions are informed and based on values.

Unfortunately, as projects progress, visions and values can become diluted In the built environment and infrastructure industry. This can result in the loss of some key outcomes. This must change. We are facing a climate and housing crises. There is, rightly, a lot of pressure to deliver more, for less, and faster—from housing to biodiversity, to reduced carbon, better communities and engagement.

Value-based decision-making seeks to ensure these wider values – not just cost and programme – are driving projects. We need to know a development supports net zero ambitions. Can it be used easily, by everyone? Will it improve our industry and support greater society? How does it impact biodiversity?

We need to stop treating sustainability considerations as nice-to-have add-ons and put them at the heart of a project.

Values under the microscope

At Stantec, we wanted to see how we could measure and balance such variables and constraints so that project visions are valid, robust, and delivered. So, we put the Construction Innovation Hub Value Toolkit to the test.

The trial

We trialled the Value Definition phase of the Toolkit with a key client on an urban regeneration scheme. The client is a housing association with values and a mission firmly centred around delivering positive social and human outcomes.

The trial comprised an introductory meeting on the Value Toolkit, three workshops, and some preparatory work in between.

It followed the completion of a feasibility study and options appraisal exercise. This gave us an opportunity to reflect on the work done to date, whilst also informing the brief for the next stages of the project.

The team

The ‘trial’ team was truly multi-disciplinary and included the client team, architects, Stantec (consulting engineers), and participants with environmental and social value expertise.  Through the facilitated process, we all learned from each other’s perspectives and expertise.  However, we realised that while we had good representation for design, there could have been stronger representation for the construction period.  There was also no individuals or organisations to advocate for, and address, how the proposed development might be used e.g. representatives from the local community,. This key stakeholder group often lacks a voice when places are planned and designed. Perhaps the Value Toolkit will help address this concern.  During the trial, we gathered feedback on the tool, the process, output, profile, and suggestions for improvements.

Jenny Hughes, Climate Change & Social Value Manager for Stantec

Process and the benefit of early workshops

The client does not usually carry out vision and outcome-setting workshops in this way. The trial team found that it was a very useful process to articulate and agree on the project direction at a much earlier stage than usual, and to set a clear evaluation framework.

 The workshops encouraged stakeholders to truly focus on prioritising key outcomes.

The nature of workshops also lends itself better to communicating as a team and removed an element of formality from the more standard design team meetings.

Output and profile

The Value Profile successfully helped to pin down the project aims early on. These were graphically represented using individual spider profiles for the projects and/or programmes and proved to be a very effective communication tool.

However, the process to get to the Value Profile potentially risks over-reliance on the quantitative scoring. There’s a possibility of personal bias skewing the results. That is especially true if there is not an appropriate selection of stakeholders and capitals.

Scaling and rollout of the toolkit

It is crucial to consider how this process and Toolkit can be scaled to different projects.

At Stantec, we see that the real value in the Toolkit is in supporting decision-making in a way that complements existing project delivery processes. Used alongside established project management tools, it provides a decision support framework to help maintain and enhance efficiency as we face up to current and future planning and housing challenges.

Keeping this at the forefront of the refinement of the toolkit will be key to its success and mass adoption across the industry.

Standing up to the mark

This is the first time we have applied a capitals framework to a scheme of this nature. This method succeeds in putting all the key considerations at the heart of conversation, balancing and testing the three pillars of sustainability together, rather than as an add-on concept.

The test will be how the toolkit is developed and rolled out across the industry in a way that is feasible, fits with existing project processes and requirements, and is adopted with enthusiasm and to deliver on its overarching purpose.

No one framework is ever going to be perfect. But one that structures key considerations and shifts the conversation is a good place to start!

Importantly, this toolkit enables everyone to have a voice and a seat at the table, and that is of huge value in itself. We think a consistent framework could set the benchmark for sustainable infrastructure and built environment projects. It will help us avoid vague statements and aspirations surrounding sustainability, prevent potential greenwashing, and enhance industry accountability. All future-focused projects need to keep sustainability at their core; but they also need to be realistic and viable.

The status quo has kept cheapest and fastest capital delivery as the key outcomes we procure for. At Stantec we believe the Toolkit has an important role to play in supporting decision-making alongside, and complementing, existing project delivery processes. Driving the shift to putting sustainability and social value at the heart of all projects.