While a wide range of methods exist to judge the performance of buildings relatively few exist to judge the subjective qualities of master planned neighbourhoods. Without considering the relation between design and the positive behaviours and emotions instilled by the new neighbourhood, is there a risk plans end up as bland estates rather than the kinds of places where people want to live?
A review of practice by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) found that only 10% of its chartered practices offer post-occupancy evaluations of their projects, which indicates a missed opportunity to learn from previous projects. Project owners tend to focus on warranty claims as a measure of quality; and if sales are completed by agents, it is natural to loose the relationship with buyers as attention shifts to the next project.
Consequently, the occupants’ satisfaction with their new neighbourhood is very rarely explored.
Why should we care about social value in master planning?
Social value is a hot topic in architecture at the moment. Given the drive to deliver up to 300,000 new homes in the UK each year, the emphasis is often on delivering fast and to a tightly measured business case. However, the value of extra green space or social amenities is often weighted against the benefit of an additional unit that can create revenue.
As a result, it has never been more important for house builders to define and quantify the return on investment for design features that do not typically create a direct financial gain.
In construction schemes, social value can be identified as positive outcomes that people derive from changes in their neighbourhood. As Social Value UK points out, the ‘soft benefits’ of a scheme have a genuine impact on what the developer can achieve at market prices. Since the 2012 Public Services (Social Value) Act, social value is also a consideration in the weighing of planning permissions and local planning in the UK.
Project owners who can comfortably evidence social value in their scheme have an advantage at planning application stage through the additional support it can generate. By quantifying the benefits a previous scheme has delivered to local areas, residents and the new communities they built, those house builders are in a powerful position to start a positive dialogue and persuade stakeholders to back their new project.
How to incorporate consideration for social value in my organisation?
There are a few easy things to do to embed social value in master planned schemes at different times of the construction value cycle.
At its heart, social value is about process as well as outcomes.
For the design process, establish a clear strategy for community engagement in your master planning work. Our research with members of the public found that they do not expect a blank-paper discussion. Instead, it helps to have a few clear options prepared.
We see the following as especially fruitful choices to offer:
For project outcomes, develop a consistent policy for appraising the success of schemes in hindsight. Ad-hoc reviews and post-completion reviews are fairly common in architecture practices.
Post-occupancy evaluations with buyers are excellent tools for gathering essential insights and capturing lessons learned. To establish the benefits of schemes and create a link to their success, Flora Samuel, the vice chair for research at RIBA, is currently developing a Social Value toolkit. The framework is one of a series of possible methods to use as part of a post-occupancy evaluation that looks at social value occupants perceive.
To illustrate, it draws upon serveral assessment considerations, including:
Getting ready to improve through a robust design process
A consistent process for community engagement and follow-up (for example through tools such as the Social Value Toolkit) have the potential to capture robust insights into the success of a development at design stage and beyond.
Easy-to-use online tools help to embed community feedback at critical stages of the design process, as well as automating the opportunity to learn from designs that worked well later on.
Developing a robust process from the outset represents one of the best investments a house builder could make. Speak to us to learn how.