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Q&A: Talking with Rhyl Jones McCoy, Social Value Consultant Viewing Life through a Strong Community, Equity and Wellbeing Lens

Meet Rhyl Jones McCoy: social value consultant, positive psychology practitioner, inclusion advocate and co-author of our recent social value thought leadership paper, Before & Beyond the Build.

Three months after the launch of Jacobs’ social value thought leadership paper, Before & Beyond the Build: A blueprint for creating social value through infrastructure investments, we sat down with its authors to find out about what made them want to write the paper and what the industry response has been like so far…

Hi Rhyl. To get started, can you tell us a little about your background and role at Jacobs?

My professional background is in psychology and specifically how to apply psychology theories and practices to increase individual and collective wellbeing.  My current role is in the Asia Pacific People & Places team in Strategic Consulting as a Principal Consultant for Social Value and Strategic Engagement. I lead social value workshop design and facilitation, including for co-design and collaborative engagement processes in Australia and New Zealand. I also facilitate innovation, business planning and options assessment workshops for clients across infrastructure areas.

Prior to my past 10 years in consulting, I held senior leadership roles for the Queensland state government in homelessness policy, and worked for not-for-profit community services, including the Australian deaf community and Buddhist palliative care.

And how has your background in social enterprise shaped how you approach your current work?

I bring so much of my previous experience to workshops, collaborative partnerships and social value assessments. Stakeholder groups can be a diverse bunch, and my background in social, counselling and applied positive psychology sharpened my communication skills, gave me a solid understand of how information is shared and understood, and a deep respect for advocacy for inclusion.  And, for me, psychology includes a love of brains, so I relish working in an interdisciplinary global business for the opportunities to work with so many brilliant colleagues and clients.

The paper is resonating so strongly with people from across many different sectors. Why do you think that is?

I think that the focus on social sustainability and resilience, corporate social responsibility and social investment has been increasing steadily globally. Our paper links these concepts together and applies them to infrastructure delivery. I think it is resonating because people can see how you can increase social value across the life of a project and beyond if you implement it consciously at all stages. Social value delivery can benefit our clients, supply chain companies and local communities across all different infrastructure sectors. Whether it is a small park, a huge road or a hospital, the end users are people, so generating more benefits for more people is relevant to all infrastructure investments. Our paper provides a blueprint that can be applied as a framework to different projects in different contexts or locations.

You started writing this paper long before COVID-19 emerged but the topic could not be more relevant now as we consider the long-term impacts of the global pandemic. Why was the topic so important you that had to tackle it? How has the global pandemic changed things?

When I was delivering social impact assessments for large infrastructure projects, I felt that the framework was too focused on how we mitigate impacts so I started exploring the potential benefits that could be leveraged on projects too. I realized that, by working with the key stakeholders, you could better understand what was going to benefit a community, and in many cases deliver something of value for them. Later, I visited our U.K. team and collaborated with them on thinking deeper about sustainability, social benefits and value and social value measurement. It made sense to bring these together into a framework.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted sectors such as airports, public transport and cities. It has also brought the focus to people, sustainability and inequity. It is creating a transformational shift in thinking about the importance of these elements in our resource use, city planning and inclusive growth in economic recovery. For me in particular, the pandemic has highlighted the fundamental impacts of open and green spaces on our individual and collective wellbeing.

What do you think is the most important challenge for business and institutions to tackle right now?

In this case, change will come from within and, for many businesses and institutions, that means a step change to align internal practices and external aspirations. The first challenge is applying social value principles to internal processes: do they use sustainable and social procurement in supply chains and services? Are they supporting inclusive growth for disadvantaged and local communities through their workplace business practices? Do they hire, mentor, create change and opportunity for growth through our business practices?

The second challenge is how they embed social value principles in their projects, and much earlier on in the process: do they have access to the support and resources required to do this? Do their processes need to change? Do they know what measures will have the greatest impact and optimize outcomes? These are questions for Jacobs to answer too – both as a business and as support for others going through this evolution of thinking.

Lastly, what subject do you want to write about next?

From a social value perspective, I would like to keep shaping our thinking about how we can best deliver social value on our projects. I am especially keen to showcase the benefits that co-design facilitation can offer in creating deep value and innovations with our community partners.

And…the wider value of community recreational and swimming infrastructure really interests me. Specifically, I’d love to explore the linkages between regional inclusion and equality, sustainability and citizen science participation through recreational infrastructure, such as natural waterway swimming pools. In New York City, there’s a floating river pool being constructed which will become a water quality community science engagement project and is partially funded through community investment.

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