Chris Farrell, the Managing Director of Impact Reporting, discusses how the rail sector can prioritise Social Value and improve reporting to make a real difference to the bottom…

Social Value and Social Investment have become recognised words within the rail sector as more and more organisations have a growing awareness that they need defined social, environmental and sustainability goals. Businesses are looking at practical ways to reduce emissions through energy initiatives and people-focused outreach programmes such as staff training, by working with community groups and recruiting from diverse communities. The list of initiatives an organisation can undertake is exhaustive, with the challenge being how to prioritise what’s important.

The frameworks and methodologies associated with Social Impact measurement may differ between organisations and sectors, however some key themes are pertinent across all sectors. For example, analysing common inputs: money invested in charities, time spent volunteering, or trees planted is often balanced with common outputs: jobs created, lives saved, and carbon emissions prevented. Social Value can be calculated as a ‘Social Return-on-Investment’ (sROI), which relates to the perceived societal value of an organisation’s impact. However, it is important to be aware of the qualitative insights – the narratives and experiences – that also exist. These are often overlooked but are an effective way of contextualising your impact and humanising reporting about your social impact. This is important when it comes to communicating your impact to your audience.

Capturing accurate data 

Social Value is drastically influencing business behaviour in the rail sector and increasingly being seen as an effective and responsible strategy for setting organisations apart. This is reinforced by the expectations of consumers and employees and their ever-growing want to engage in pro-social initiatives. Public transport is often funded by the taxpayer, making the need to demonstrate a positive social impact even more pertinent in the transport sector, to get to a point where you are truly trusted by prospective customers and seen as a desirable employer, the clear measuring and reporting of your impact is imperative.

Employees need to understand why they are engaging in a social or environmental project and whether the outcomes have contributed towards the business’ purpose. They want and expect transparency. It’s important to reflect on your current business behaviours to understand if all stakeholders are working towards a common goal and if your Social Value budget is being allocated efficiently.

How Social Impact is recorded, analysed and reported is just as important as how it is created – the information you get out is only as good as the data you put in. Updating and quantifying data live is crucial. It’s already standard practice for HR, sales and financial data to be captured robustly and accurately in real-time – and now the norms for social value data capture are catching up. Google Analytics, Xero, SalesForce, and intranet systems are all updated live, and reports can be gathered at the click of a button, without the hassle of manually compiling data from multiple sources. In short, having all social value data feeding into one central database is advantageous as it allows for regular updates.

The benefits to transport businesses

It’s important to make the analysis of your social responsibility an ongoing requirement, and refrain from solely relying on an annual report. Modern software is making this not just possible, but practical, taking in feeds from CRMs and intranets and calculating social value in real time.

Rail organisations must pursue their organisational purpose – rather than monetary metrics – drives their Social Value strategy. All forms of Social Value activity should be encouraged, however if you only invest exclusively in activities that produce a high ROI you are in danger of ignoring other projects that may be more valuable in the long run or provide a broader range of benefits to society.

Chris Farrell says: ‘It’s easy to pay lip-service to Social Value and not be truly committed, however eventually your stakeholders will see through this. The real and rewarding challenge comes when you take control of the agenda, using strong figures to support your decisions.

‘Driving with purpose-first means that decisions reflect the preference of the end-user or community you want to help, rather than the needs or whims – or indeed quotas – of the executives. To truly understand whether you are making a difference in communities, you need more than high-level figures; you need stories driven by real people.’

Reaching the right goals

Quantifying Social Value in an accurate and consistent way is key for all transport organisations. One such way, is by aligning to and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 global goals set by the UN in 2015 – is a straightforward and ethical way of benchmarking the impact of many value-based businesses. These are a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future and address global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.

Chris Farrell says: ‘We encourage our rail clients to align to the UN’s SDGs because of their worldwide and future-proofed applicability. Organisations track and report on their pro-social and pro-environmental activities according to which SDGs they contribute towards – to provide structure and help employees understand the greater goals they are helping to achieve.’

Indeed, given the vast array of activities that rail, or aviation organisations can carry out, it is not surprising that many of these cannot be understood in simply monetary terms. To focus strictly on this approach, and to exclusively report on quantitative data, organisations are missing an opportunity to truly understand the scope of their impact. It’s about the long-term difference an organisation is making to the lives of real people and environmental sustainability.

On the right track

As the owner and operator of Britain’s railway infrastructure, Network Rail, has set the social value standard within the rail sector. With 216,000 people in the UK employed by the rail industry and its supply chain and the £36 billion it contributes to the UK economy annually, the organisation is hugely influential. It sponsored the development of the sector’s Common Social Impact Framework (CSIF) and it aims to always be measured against these values.

Sarah Borien, Sustainability Strategy Manager at Network Rail, says: ‘We want to measure our social value in a meaningful way and take into consideration a broad range of activities that we know are being delivered across the network, but rarely measured. For example, we will be examining employee’s volunteering time, STEM engagement, railway safety, social regeneration and community rail initiatives.’

Chris Farrell says: ‘Rail clients need to incorporate a range of diverse factors into their social value, from measuring outreach in schools, to rail safety, suicide prevention, apprenticeships and local economic spend.

‘Network Rail supports a range of Social Value initiatives such as supporting local communities, by addressing youth unemployment and developing training and apprenticeships to address the gender pay gap and encourage a more diverse staff structure.

‘It also champions societal and environmental campaigns and hosts school interventions to discuss safety, accidental deaths and suicide prevention. Encouraging and investing in green initiatives is also essential for the rail sector. Network Rail is customer-focused and works to maintain tracks, create eco spaces at stations and plant trees. It also strives to make stations physically accessible and step-free for disabled customers.’

The power of social investment

Social Value aids rail organisations by making them more efficient and leads to higher engagement amongst employees. Delivering social investment initiatives is key for the rail sector which was established to be used by the public and impacts on the environment and society. It will be an interesting journey ahead as Social Value becomes increasingly central to the success of the rail sector.

About Impact

Impact Reporting was established in 2017, in Manchester, by the co-founders of Reason Digital. It’s an easy-to-use, cloud-based SaaS which streamlines the way businesses capture, monitor, and produce real time reports on their social and environmental impact. In 2018 it measured an impact of over £50 million for clients spanning law, construction, transport services and housing providers

Twitter: @CaptureImpact