Social value: public sector must demand more – and tech suppliers need to deliver

Written by Alex Jackson on 8 June 2022 in Opinion

SMEs and other providers should embrace the new mandates for IT firms to demonstrate social value, according to Alex Jackson of dxw

Credit: Images/CC BY 2.0

Recently, the conversation within public sector procurement has seen a shift. 

Social value – and having a tech supplier that demonstrates that value – is now higher up on the agenda than ever before. As the ones setting and evaluating these new criteria, there is definitely an opportunity for government and public sector organisations to change the culture of tech suppliers. Meeting or exceeding these new expectations will be a major focus in the future, especially for smaller suppliers looking to find an avenue onto new frameworks that stipulate social value as a requirement.

What is it like for a smaller supplier to respond to evolving social value policy, and how do you demonstrate that value? 

The government’s latest procurement policy focuses on suppliers’ efforts to tackle economic inequality, their contribution to Covid-19 recovery, and the drive to fight the climate crisis, as well as equal opportunity and employee wellbeing. It sets a requirement that social value is now explicitly evaluated in all central government procurement exercises. A notable recent example of this is the new Digital Specialists and Programmes Framework (DSP), for suppliers that will support digital transformation across the public sector. 

These expectations have resulted in a shift in policy and changes for every supplier, particularly smaller ones. There’s recognition that SMEs can have a niche role in adding social value – with a focus on quality above quantity – which means they’re in a position to compete with larger suppliers. That recognition is inherently a good thing, and a few genuinely independent smaller suppliers made it onto the DSP. For those looking to embed social value into their organisation and make their way onto such frameworks, the Government’s own guidance is a great place to start, but there is more to unpack.

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This shift in expectations has changed how suppliers need to think about their services, not just how they can sell them. That can only be a good thing. 

It is often many small parts that contribute to social value within an organisation. Those small can include things such as flexible working, investment in line management, training and development, and a visible route to accessing wellbeing support – hybrid working is now the norm in many organisations and this is a vital part of the puzzle when it comes to creating a supportive and positive work environment. 

I find that my team is being asked more often about employee wellbeing as part of routine procurement exercises, indicating a much higher level of priority in this area than previously. A real change in supplier culture can be driven here. 

If you've got teams who have been stressed, overworked and under rewarded, how can they deliver the digital services that people need? 

Revamping recruitment
A good place to start bedding in a more ‘socially valuable’ culture is to change your recruitment process. Reduce the potential for unconscious bias by anonymising applications, for example. 

Target job adverts where less represented people are more likely to see them and place more emphasis on how someone responds to real life challenges than on their education history. This will stand you in good stead for attracting people to your organisation that you would not normally reach.

Adopt and use policies, approaches and tools that make sure you are creating genuinely inclusive public services. Some of the things we do serve the most vulnerable or excluded people in society, and if we do not make sure that we understand their needs, then we are not going to get it right. 

Now that all of this is mandated, I don’t see momentum slowing down. 

Across the public sector, the desire is there to drive forward this cultural shift, adding greater value for communities and the environment, and we need to be ready. 

We should be well beyond questioning whether more inclusive recruitment and employment practices create more accessible and robust services. The appetite is there, and the mandate has been added, so real action needs to be taken. 

Social value is now a fact of life in government procurement opportunities. Public sector organisations should continue to demand more, and tech suppliers will need to deliver.  

That means continuing to make changes to recruitment and HR policies, and adapting internal processes and ways of working. Greater diversity and improved wellbeing leads to increased productivity and better services. You get out what you put in, both as an employer and as a supplier. 

The government is showing us that it may just be serious about driving this forward, so suppliers will need to respond promptly to this growing need for a more compassionate brand of digital public services.


About the author

Alex Jackson is client services director at dxw

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