Benefits: Social and Economic

The glossary entries are the result of a collaborative process among OpenHeritage consortium partners and have undergone an internal review. However, they only express the perspective of the authors listed under each term, not of all partners. You can find information on the glossary production process and the full glossary here.

Elena De Nictolis
Luiss University, Rome, Italy;

Christian Iaione
Luiss University, Rome, Italy;

Maria Cristina Pangallozzi
Luiss University, Rome, Italy;

Alessandro Piperno
Luiss University, Rome, Italy;

Short definition

The social-economic benefit mainly refers to the improvement of economic and social conditions, as an increase in education and employment levels. Hence, the term “socio-economic benefits” applies to the advantages offered, thanks to the development of a product or a service, to a target audience, which could indicate the society as a whole or a specific community (Xun 2013, 302-309). Therefore, to define and measure the benefits different elements need to be taken into consideration: the beneficiaries, the scale of the impact, the scope of the activities, and the timing of analysis. As an example, ceteris paribus, the benefits could take into consideration the impacts that the actions have on the target groups with a short or long-term timeframe, significantly changing the definition of the benefit (Masocha 2016, 838-848). Hence, also the measurement of the benefits is a complicated analysis that needs to take into consideration different elements at the same time.

Key discussions around the term

The term socio-economic benefit refers to all the positive consequences of a specific action. In the case of adaptive reuse the attention focus on the economic, social, and environmental benefits of meeting the needs and demands of the different local stakeholders of the buildings (Bullen and Love 2011, 32-46; see also Rudokas et al. 2019). Therefore, the assessment of the socio-economic benefits of adaptive reuse is crucial for the understanding of the impacts generated by a project. However, the comprehension of the benefits requires a wide multidisciplinary analysis of the services/products. Thus, activities concerning common goods and resources create a variety of spillover effects that are difficult to delimitate. Hence, when analyzing the socio-economic benefit of heritage reuse elements from different disciplines, sociology, psychology, economics, etc. should be taken into consideration. Some of the aspects that might be taken into consideration are:

  • Influences on the well-being of individuals and communities, taking into consideration also the effect on community cohesion.
  • Influences on the attractiveness of the place to newcomers, taking into consideration also the possible gentrification process
  • Influences on the education level of the community and the possibility of people to access the education systems
  • Influences on the environment and the ecosystem, taking into consideration also the effect on energy efficiency and the creation of renewable sources
  • Influences on the economic conditions of the place, including the creation of jobs and the capacity building
  • Influences on the cultural life of the place and the ability to offer cultural and artistic services and on the heritage values
  • Influences on tourism and the ability of the place to attract people, resources, and ideas
  • Influences on the attractiveness of the place to business, taking into consideration also the effect on the real estate value

The multidisciplinary approach of the benefits arises issues also related to its measurement, as most of the socio-economic benefits are difficult to estimate. Hence the main discussion relates to the possibility to quantify some of these benefits and give them an economic value (Dallinger 2019, 482-496). Hence, the discussion can be divided into two different main streams that can be applied to different sectors and peculiarly to the urban and heritage regeneration activities. The first aspect questions how some intangible aspects of the benefits could be measured (Brazier 2016). As an example, it is difficult to measure the benefit generated by clean air or of the mitigation of climate change. The second aspect refers to the possibility to give economic value to non-economic benefits (Arvidson 2013, 3-18). These additional steps are essential to understand the overall positive or negative impact of a project. However, also, in this case, the definition of social and economic benefits in economic terms could be complicated. As an example, it is difficult to provide an economic value to saving the life of a person. Hence, the recent debate around the term focuses on defining the boundaries of impact and how they could be measured.

Reference list

Arvidson, Malin, et al. 2013. “Valuing the social? The nature and controversies of measuring social return on investment (SROI).” In Voluntary sector review. 4(1): 3-18.

Brazier, John, et al. 2016. Measuring and valuing health benefits for economic evaluation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bullen, Peter, and Peter Love. 2011. “Factors influencing the adaptive re‐use of buildings.” In Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology. 9(1): 32-46.

Dallinger, Bettina, et al. 2019. “Socio-economic benefit and profitability analyses of Austrian hydro storage power plants supporting increasing renewable electricity generation in Central Europe”. In Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 107: 482-496.

Xun, Zhao, and Zhao Ting. 2003. “The socio-economic benefits of establishing National Geoparks in China.” In Episodes 26(4): 302-309.

Masocha, Mhosisi. 2006. “Informal waste harvesting in Victoria Falls town, Zimbabwe: Socio-economic benefits”. In Habitat International 30(4) : 838-848.

Rudokas, Kastytis, et al. 2019. “Valuing the socio-economic benefits of built heritage: Local context and mathematical modeling.” In Journal of Cultural Heritage. 39: 229-237.