In the media

Beyond their primary remit, successful projects should aim to be drivers of social benefit for the wider community

By Paul Bradley

New Civil Engineer

15 May 2023

In June, PA Consulting will be leading a panel discussion on ‘Projects as Drivers of Social Benefits’ at Association for Project Management’s (APM), annual conference ‘Change Changes’, in which we will explore the current and future landscape for projects and programmes creating social benefits in the UK, including the issues and challenges they face in making a positive difference to people’s lives.

The session forms part of APM’s Future Lives and Landscapes campaign, which looks at projects and programmes creating social benefits in the UK and how the project profession can continue delivering value for the future.

The concept of social benefits, and the positive impact that a project has on the wider community beyond its primary objectives, has become increasingly important in the field of project management. In collaboration with organisations like APM, at PA Consulting, we are invested in the advancement of science, theory and practice of project and programme management for the ultimate benefit of the public through the successful delivery of transformational projects.

We have seen since the Social Value Act 2012 that public bodies must ensure that improvements in economic, social, and environmental wellbeing are incorporated into all procurement. This requires organisations to collaborate with clients to deliver both financial and social value, with the latter becoming more of a key consideration in awarding public sector contracts. We therefore need to be able to demonstrate what we provide as key differentiators for the welfare of society as a whole, not just the direct beneficiaries of the project.

As expected, environmental benefits, including reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality and contributing to sustainability objectives, are front and centre in people’s consciousness. The next 30 years requires a significant transformation of infrastructure to prepare for the reduction and eventual removal of fossil fuels, creation of new energy solutions, and the introduction of innovative storage approaches to meet the Net Zero challenge. It is therefore vital that projects accelerate innovation and adoption of clean energy technologies, through new digitised products and services. Such projects are forecast to have a positive impact on job creation, reductions in energy bills, greater energy efficiency, improvement in air quality and a reduction in pollutant emissions, thus contributing to the fight against climate change.

The challenges brought about by the pandemic also require infrastructure projects to create additional social value over their lifecycle and help to re-build local economies. As well as the traditional benefits for individuals, communities, and local economies, such as roads, public transport, low carbon energy supply, clean water, and flood protection, there are imperatives to deliver broader social outcomes, such as addressing local socio-economic issues and inequalities, and increasing people’s overall quality of life.

It is imperative when considering social benefits that both the positive and negative effects of a project on the wider community are fully understood. There are numerous examples where positive impacts, such as the provision of green spaces, can be significantly offset (and sometimes overshadowed) by negatively received impacts such as increased congestion or reduction of local parking.

It is important that projects are a true reflection of society as a whole and the delivering of and benefits arising from them should incorporate diversity, inclusivity, social mobility, and equality considerations into all aspects of the life cycle. The increasing focus on social benefits and value reflects the growing complexity of major projects and it is important to consider the evolution of benefits across a programme’s duration. Although most of the value is largely enjoyed after the project is complete, social impact may also depend on the early engagements of projects so it can be connected meaningfully to the local community and its needs. When considered early on, the design can be tailored to meet those needs, increasing the project’s chances of winning support and successfully delivering on everyone’s expectations.

The stresses of modern life have brought expectations that projects are not only focused on delivering benefits in health and wellbeing but are also delivered in psychologically safe environments that allow professionals to experiment, innovate and learn from failures without fear of redress. Being open about and addressing the mental health issues for our people and teams provides clear benefits to both individuals and organisations undertaking complex delivery challenges.

We believe that social benefits can act as a driving force for successful projects, creating positive impacts well beyond their primary objectives. Project managers must identify and target these benefits to increase stakeholder satisfaction and fulfil their social responsibility to the wider community. The advent of aspects such as project data analytics also allow project professionals to evaluate and measure social benefits effectively and contribute towards creating a better society.

The key is to ensure that social value and benefits are considered early in any project’s lifecycle and there are specific objectives outside the core deliverables. It can also be beneficial to consider partnerships with organisations whose raison d'être is the provision of social value, to provide subject matter expertise in developing practical plans for delivering social benefits.

APM’s ‘Change Changes’ conference – which will focus on the project profession’s contribution to a cleaner, safer, more prosperous, and inclusive society – reflects these considerations and aligns with PA Consulting’s belief that the successful delivery of complex projects and programmes has a beneficial impact on society as a whole.

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