10 social impact questions every Property Developer needs to ask

Social sustainability is becoming an increasing priority for the property sector. And for good reason. It’s hard to ignore the statistics: one in three people don’t know their neighbours (1), and loneliness is now as likely to kill you as smoking (2). While this is a multi-faceted problem, one commonality across the breadth of social health issues plaguing our modern lifestyles is: the neighbourhood.

Where we live determines not only what opportunities we have access to, it also determines how long we will live. A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that your postcode was just as likely to affect your life expectancy as your genetic code.

Your postcode was just as likely to affect your life expectancy as your genetic code.
— Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Last week the Urban Land Institute Australia held its national summit titled ‘The Social Impact of Urban Development’ which highlighted the emerging need to intentionally plan for social outcomes and measure them, in the face of Australia’s growing social inequality.

Social sustainability was just as much a central topic at The Green Building Council of Australia’s Transform Conference, also held last week in Sydney. This covered a range of discussions on measuring social outcomes and also how we can leverage traditional knowledge systems and Indigenous perspectives to define and create place.

Green Building Council of Australia’s  Transform  Conference, Sydney

Green Building Council of Australia’s Transform Conference, Sydney

Measuring what matters

The Australian property sector has gained a world-leading position on both economic and environmental sustainability in recent decades. And while creating ‘places for people’ has been a focus for city-makers since cities began, the sector has more recently been actively taking responsibility for its role in shaping inclusive, socially connected neighbourhoods. This starts with measuring, understanding and reporting on social impact because you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Asking the right questions

Quantifying qualitative information or finding proxies for measuring intangible values is something the social and community sectors have been doing for decades. This approach typically starts with asking the right questions. There is much that the property sector can learn from this approach.

Neighbourlytics is a social analytics platform for neighbourhoods. We see data as the foundational platform for measuring social outcomes and driving change. But data is useless if you’re not asking the right questions.

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10 Social Impact Questions for the Property Sector

Here are 10 social impact questions the property sector should ask, in no particular order:

  1. Why?

    Because you would always start with Why.
    - Why are we measuring social impact?

  2. How can Indigenous perspectives be leveraged and understood?

    - Finding the true value of places starts with asking deep questions.

  3. Who are we creating change for? Who benefits?

    - Who are the stakeholders in this project or initiative?
    - How will different stakeholders benefit from the planned changes?
    - What are the intended social improvements?

  4. What data do we have about this place?

    - How have we undertaken analysis of this place?
    - What could our blind spots be?
    - Who could be missing from the information?

  5. How reliable is the information we have?

    - What bias is the data we have subject to?
    - Who has undertaken the observations or studies, how does their personal or professional background bias what they see?
    - Is the data collection replicable or just a one-off?

  6. What problem are we trying to solve?

    - Is the problem backed up by the data that we have?
    - Has the problem been identified by someone who experiences the problem or someone external to it?  
    - Does the data about the existing place, history, knowledge systems, cultural values help identify new solutions?
    - Rather than starting with the problem, do we know what strengths of assets this place has and how they can be leveraged?

  7. How will we know what success looks like?

    - What success measures do you have in place to know that you got it right?

  8. Which changes matter and are important enough for us to manage?

    - Do we need to measure everything to know that we have been successful?
    - What are the key indicators?

  9. How will we measure it?

    - What data sources or measurement tools could you use to measure and monitor success metrics?
    - How long do you need to measure this change for?

  10. Who decides?

    - Who decides what the success measures are?
    - And who decides what data will be collected?
    - Do the communities set to benefit from the social improvements agree with your measures of success?


On addition to these 10 questions, one constant question should be: How can we make sure a city is constantly evolving and always open to change?


For more questions to consider, check out these references (1- 2):

Lucinda Hartley

I’m an urban designer and social entrepreneur who has spent the past decade pioneering innovative methods to improve the social sustainability of cities, now being implemented around the world. 

As a co-founder at Neighbourlytics, I bring my social innovation and entrepreneurship strengths to harness big data, and deliver community insights that inform evidence-based urban development decisions. Neighbourlytics is backed by BlueChilli Group’s highly competitive She Starts program.