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How the new Rail Social Value Tool works

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It has been described as a first for the industry. Conrad Emmett looks at the new Rail Social Value Tool announced this week.

The Rail Social Value Tool (RSVT), which measures the positive (or negative) impact of projects, investments and day-to-day working has been unveiled by RSSB, Loop and co-funder Network Rail.

The implications of having such a tool are not to be underestimated. For instance, the ‘Social Value Framework’ is a benchmark Network Rail has set for itself and for its suppliers, and the infrastructure owner is also an early adopter of the software.

The tool can help a business forecast, monitor and evaluate the social value of its activities. It can measure the impact on wellbeing of both individuals and wider society. It also quantifies the net positive (or negative) social, economic and fiscal value that a project, organisation or specific initiative generates. 

The RSVT has 500 indicators, organised across 12 social impacts. It can measure and (because of a financial value attached to 239 of the indicators) monetise a wide range of benefits. These include:

  • Improving safety
  • Jobs created, apprentices employed and training provided
  • Change to air quality
  • Increasing biodiversity, by protecting and boosting plant and animal life, and planting trees
  • Curriculum enrichment support for young people
  • Design features that make rail travel more accessible and inclusive
  • Employee and community volunteering
  • Co-designing infrastructure and services with communities
  • The RSVT has undergone extensive testing since November 2021 by early adopters, including Network Rail and companies in its supply chain.

How it works

First, the creators of the RSVT say that the purpose of the evaluation needs to be defined by the business or entity, as well as who the evaluation is for, and the setting against which it will be carried out – in other words the aims and objectives of the reporting organisation.

Then, the reporting team needs to decide what frame of activities are included.

The software allows users to view the likely impact of a scheme, track progress as a project goes ahead and look back on work when it is complete.

Each of these – forecast, monitoring and evaluation – has its own dashboard. The monitoring dashboard updates in real time. Work can also be mapped against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and against the 4 Capitals framework. Both of these also get their own dashboard.

Further to this, you are able to set out boundaries as to what is “local”.

It also has built in tools and accompanying methodology to help entities not overclaim their positive impact on the environment.

A “first” for the rail industry

RSSB’s director for sustainable development, George Davies, said:  “It’s fantastic to see the Rail Social Value Tool launched today. It’s a first for the rail industry, and I would like to thank everyone involved in its development.

“Rail is one of the most sustainable forms of transport. However, until now, we haven’t been able to measure its social value in sufficient detail. 

“We can now assess, and importantly place a financial value on the effect the railway has in a number of areas including the natural environment, communities, people and their health, cultural heritage, housing, inclusivity, and distribution of opportunities. 

“As we transform the railway and deliver the vision of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, the Rail Social Value Tool will guide decisions on rail development across the country to ensure the best return on those investments for society.”

Network Rail’s sustainability strategy manager (social performance), Liz Holford, said: “The launch of the Rail Social Value Tool is an important milestone which enables our industry to make a step-change in how we understand and manage our impacts on people. 

“We’re already using the tool to forecast and maximise the social value of station redevelopments and infrastructure enhancements as well as current projects and some completed ones, and we’re looking forward to using it further to manage and improve the impact our railway has on society.”

Group chief executive of Loop, Gerard Toplass, said: “We are proud to have worked with RSSB and the wider rail sector to help them deliver the Rail Social Value Tool.  Together we have developed 449 measures (KPIs) across 12 social value impact areas that cover people, sustainability and economic activity.

“It is a first for the industry, and our software team worked in true collaboration with RSSB to develop a simple and accessible tool that can be used throughout the supply-chain and is aligned to the sector’s needs and objectives.

“Over the next 5 years we look forward to further developing the tool and helping the rail sector continue to deliver measured social value.”

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