Policies and Resources


Corporate, Infrastructure, And Society: A Social Productivity Agenda

Economic growth needs to be re-kindled – but in a more sustainable form that carries public confidence and delivers fairer benefits. These agendas could diverge unless they are brought together as part of a coherent narrative.

Citizens and civil society firms are being asked to step up and resume more responsibility. But what does that imply for business? Business has been lauded for efficiency and urged to grow the economy to prosperity.

The existing reality is one of inter-dependence and shared agendas. The story they tell is that states, infrastructure, and economic growth can be mutually reinforcing. Corporations, infrastructure, and civil society are themselves in a process of change.

Social productivity calls for a more balanced relationship between sectors of society. It looks to get beyond ideological debates on the size of a state or the ‘bigness’ of communities, and instead focuses on the social value that can be created through better relationships between citizens, society, business, and infrastructure.

Cross-party consensus is emerging around the need to re-think both the role of the state in the industry, and the role of the industry in delivering infrastructure. Any new shared agenda should include:

  • Creating new growth – entrepreneurship and private sector innovation are key to the government’s goal of ‘rebalancing’ the economy,
  • Delivering infrastructure,
  • Fostering behaviour change.

Though this nascent agenda is promising, its implications are largely unknown and new. Our report begins that process. Its conclusions are based on extensive desk research, one-to-one interviews, the results of a high-level policy roundtable, and a number of case studies, including an in-depth analysis of the Foundation’s activities. In particular, we look at Big Society, contemporary corporate social responsibility (CSR), enlightened enterprise, turbocapitalism, shared value, public entrepreneurship, the circular economy and volunteerism.

We show how the new models and relationships being sketched in theory have already started to emerge in practice. Administrations have begun to bridge public and private through new types of collaboration, new corporate forms and new forms of financing. Examples include social finance and the public benefit mutual agendas. Developments in open data are rapidly building new industries while expanding opportunities for active citizenship.

Our analysis suggests that progress is dependent on policy makers and practitioners agreeing practical advances on three related fronts.

  1. New shared spaces – Administration sets the policy strategy and devolves the detail. Operational strategies should increasingly be developed by sectors and their stakeholders. More socially productive economies and infrastructure require shared spaces – physical and virtual – to incubate connections, learn from each other, enable deliberation and foster relationships. Appetite for shared and integrated services has been whetted by initiatives, smart cities and community budgets. In sectors like Further Education (FE) – where the state of the physical infrastructure is better than during previous recessions – greater sectoral and institutional autonomy could actually support more innovative application of physical and human resources.
    • Using existing social media, local resources, and local public assets to develop collaborative spaces for fundamental dialogue.
    • Administration has to jump first. Recognise that the sustainability of collaborative policymaking, regulation and behaviour change requires stimulus and drive from administration.
    • Collaboration is the new reality for policymaking and practice.
  2. New shared values – administration is uniquely placed to set the overarching policy imperative and specify the timeframe. Public managers should be encouraged to think beyond service delivery, and consider their contribution to social and economic growth. Corporations increasingly need to think beyond the profit margin and embed social goals into their core strategy. Shared value is a business strategy and also a fundamental element of infrastructure reform.
    • Creating new shared values is of building circles of trust. Recognise the power of connections and relationships in creating social value and stimulating growth.
  3. New shared resources – Resource issues present potential risks and opportunities for the public, private, and civil society sectors.
    • Corporations and public services must re-think the resource base.
    • Leverage new technology and open data. Recognise the potential of digital technology to reveal new types of relationship directly between citizens and infrastructure, and between corporations, civil society, and the public sector.

The opportunity between rhetoric and reality in this area is huge. We need a collaborative mindset across public, private, and civil society sectors, a proactive and catalytic role for government, and a social productivity approach to policy and practice. At the core of many of the innovative collaborations we see taking root is the idea of social value.