Statistics, damn statistics…and lies

I mentioned in my review of Made to Stick (incidentally, they have a website about it here) the other day about statistics giving credibility, but often inducing glazed eyes and heavy eyelids. But, in the broader area of evaluation and measurement, they are incredibly important in this sector.

I had a great conversation with Steve Lawrence (founder of Work Ventures in Australia) at the SSE residential recently about the SSE evaluation, and how we can seek to extend and improve upon that work. You can find and download a full 100+ page copy of the report in the Outcomes and Impact section of the main website…and an exec summary version as well. One challenge we talked about was how much of the nuance and detail you lose when boiling this stuff down to headlines. A few times, Steve mentioned different things he was interested in, only for me to say that some of them were in the 100+ page version, but not the shorter exec summary; or had been in an earlier version and then cut. I'd love everyone to read that full report, as it gives such a rounded view of SSE programmes and their various outcomes. It also has more on the evaluation process, such as how we tried to provide incentives / anonymous responses (in order to get a good cross-section of participants), how we also used the process to empower SSE students and Fellows to use evaluative tools, and so forth. But, ultimately, the highlights are incredibly important organisationally because of people's time, and their need to grasp something swiftly. And simple, concise points do that. Balancing that with the need to give as full and holistic picture as possible is one challenge for those heading up evaluative work. (And, lest we forget, to improve and develop internally as an organisation from that learning).

You can see something of the same debate in the SROI vs. social auditing argument. See this exceprt from the Social Enterprise Magazine article linked to above:

"Where there are impacts which can be easily ‘financialised', like
people moving off benefits into work, by all means use SROI. But there
will always be impacts which are difficult to attribute reasonably in
this way. In these cases how people think and feel is important and
social audit methods will be more appropriate"

Not quite the 'highlights' vs. 'holistic' wrangle, I'm talking about, but it is about that same sense of crunching something down and losing something of the reality and totality of it all. But, as Craig Dearden-Phillips puts it in a typically provocative column, the sector can't rely on anecdotal evidence either:

"For years we have got away with being the sector of great anecdotes.
When asked about the difference we make, we often bang on about our
best-ever success or offer improbable statistics that would do a
Soviet-era government proud ("our two staff provide services for
267,000 people" and so on). In a tougher climate, those who properly
measure and prove impact will thrive while those who bleat that it's
all too difficult will sink."

I agree with this, and make sure we introduce evaluation, impact measurement, outcomes, and all the rest of it to our students while their projects are at an early stage. So much easier to build it in at the start than try and retrospectively collect and analyse….

Having said that, the masters of the twisted statistic remain the retail sector. The current Flora Buttery advert has Gary Rhodes offering crumpets to people around the country: one with Lurpak Spreadable butter on, and one with Flora Buttery on. The whole ad is based around the fact that "more people said they preferred Flora". At the bottom of the screen (as with the classic shampoo ads), the "proof" pops up. In this case, it has 200 people who were asked, of whom 48% preferred Flora…..and 45% preferred Lurpak. With 7% having no opinion. That's 96 people for Flora, 90 for Lurpak and 14 for neither. So, yes, in a one-off exercise conducted by Flora with 200 people, 6 more out of those 200 preferred Flora to another brand. In my humble opinion, that proves absolutely nothing….do another 20 tests with the public, independently, and not conducted by a celebrity chef driving a Flora van with a crumpet on top…and then I might be swayed. (Mis)using statistics like that is why people say things like this:

"Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death" (Hillaire Belloc)

and, more poetically,

"Like dreams, statistics are a form of wish fulfillment" (Jean Baudrillard)

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The Top 5 social entrepreneurship debates…in the world…ever

Part of me thinks I should blog about the new £6m Bank of Scotland social entrepreneur awards, announced this weekend in the Times. Obviously all new money and publicity for the movement is welcome…but my excitement lessened slightly on reading that the awards were for 2 organisations and of that £6m, only £600k was actual cash: the rest is loan, admittedly at very friendly rates in this credit crunch age. Is this what we need in the social entrepreneurship world? Possibly, I guess: will be interesting to see. But with CAN's Breakthrough, Impetus Trust, Venture Partnership Foundation, UnLtd Ventures, Ashoka, Schwab, Futurebuilders et al all concentrating on scaling up/recognising a small number of organisations, is this the best use of £600,000 for social entrepreneurship? Let's hope one of the awards goes to a new outstanding organisation that hasn't benefited from similar sources……

So, instead, I thought I'd discuss a post on the (relatively) new Social Entrepreneurship blog on (US non-profit social networking site), which I've been enjoying of late. Nathaniel Whittemore posted up what he considered the Top 5 Controversies in Social Entrepreneurship. These were as follows:

– Individual vs. collective
– Definition
– Scale
– Symptoms vs. causes
– Non-profit and for-profit relations

Reading those, and thinking of the posts over the last two and half years and 327 posts (oh yes), I thought that was a pretty decent stab at what lies at the root of most debate and argument across the sector. I guess the symptoms vs. causes one (i.e. are social entrepreneurs ever going to achieve systemic change, addressing the causes) is probably one that is less relevant here; the 'philanthrocapitalism' debate has been predominantly held in the US to this point.

My other point would be that some of these contain more than one debate; the definition debate is about social enterprise vs. social entrepreneurship (structures vs people), but also about earned income vs. structure (eg. 50% earned income means you are…), and, further about Ashoka-Schwab-Skoll social entrepreneur vs. UnLtd-SSE social entrepreneur….although the latter is also about heroic individual vs. networked changemaker, and about scale as a criterion of definition.

So, with large hat tip to Nat for the idea, my 5 would be:

Scale: by which I mean the "can (lots of) social entrepreneur-led organisations in this movement scale and still retain what made them work in the first place?", but also the "do you have to scale to be a social entrepreneur?" question

Importing private sector practice: slightly different emphasis from Nat here (who discusses the profit imperative), as I think the large issue is the effective and appropriate use of business and private sector practice, be this in venture philanthropy, evaluation, mergers & acquisitions etc

Definition: in the UK, particularly, this is a social entrepreneurship and social enterprise question; always sounds semantic squabbling, but is much more important than that: ultimately, it's about where resources are most effectively invested to create social change. All the CIC debate etc is about people vs. structure, ultimately….

Role of individual: puncturing the myth of the 'heroic individual' is a common thing for us, pointing out that successful social entrepreneurs need to inspire, engage, motivate, network and build effective teams and supporters; but also pointing out that community groups don't spring out of the ether as a fully-formed group…there is always an individual who is the catalyst or spark-plug

Public service delivery: again, more UK-specific, I think, but you can't move for conversations and debates about whether social enterprise should be responding to the public service delivery agenda (see today's slightly terrifying headline: "Let social enterprises run the NHS") or whether, seeing as they are also meant to be entrepreneurship, innovation and risk, they should in fact be meeting needs NOT being met by public services; not to mention the independence from government, reliance on funding issues…..

So what do you reckon….have I missed an enormous elephant in the social entrepreneurship room?

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Made To Stick: why some ideas take hold

Back in the summer, my role switched to Policy and Communications Director here at the School for Social Entrepreneurs, which has meant a) that this blog is now officially part of my role and b) I've been reading about communications….in the form, most recently, of Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It's a book all about what makes some ideas 'stick' (i.e. memorable) and, ultimately, about how to communicate ideas effectively. Inevitably they have an idea to help make their ideas about ideas memorable…if you see what I mean:



You'll note the (near) SUCCES(S) acronym. And it is successful, because I finished the book a couple of weeks ago and have just done that from memory. That boiling down into 6 words gives you the essence of the essence, but there's much more in the book to enjoy, and there's much that lies behind those six words. Particularly relevant to me, given that I head up our evaluation and impact work, was the aspects of how you can use statistics to create credibility…and keep it interesting. For, as the Heaths put it, "Statistics tend to be eye-glazing. How can we use them while still managing to engage our audience?"

No set answer, but different ways of expressing them, through analogies and stories, seems one method (which is presumably why journalists measure things in numbers of double-decker buses and multiplications of the size of Wales).

In the Emotional chapter, there's some interesting research for those seeking direct donations on why people give. And how stories are better than statistics (and better, in many cases, than a combination of stories and statistics) for making an emotional connection that engages. It's interesting to consider, in the context of the rise of philanthropy brokerage, how people who are primed to feel are much more likely to give than people who are primed to calculate. Of course, it's about tailoring to your audience (the geek donors love those metrics, presumably), but the fact that being analytical "hinders our ability to feel" stayed with me.

Most of all, though, I will take away much from the chapter about Stories. Particularly, stories as a means of making people act (while a credible idea makes people believe, and an emotional idea makes them care, stories can inspire and simulate…and lead to action), which is really at the heart of SSE's practitioner- and peer-led methodology. At times, I felt the Heath brothers were writing our material about why we use expert witnesses: "The story's power, then, is twofold: it provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act). Note that both benefits, simulation and inspiration, are geared to generating action". Which is something to quote when we get asked why we don't use teachers and modules, and why the students have to have a project they are working on (so they can act!).

There's much here to ponder, and to push you towards action in your own communication…  "Stories are like flight simulators for the brain", "Avoid the curse of knowledge", "If all the stars in the Milky Way were grains of salt they would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool" and so on. Some might seem obvious, but the book frames this stuff really well and, as you'd hope, communicates it effectively. It's been on my shelf for a while, but will now be transferring to the office shelf, which is high praise….

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Friday round-up: capitalism, CICs, Camfed and collars

Matthew Thomson, CEO LCRN
Quick pre-weekend round-up.

– I covered the Enterprising Solutions Awards earlier in the week, but there was also some good coverage in the Times which is worth checking out

– Whilst we're on awards, huge well done to former SSE Director of Learning Matthew Thomson (pictured left), who is now CEO of London Community Recycling Network. They won the Innovation award in the Third Sector Excellence Awards; congrats to all the other winners and nominees as well, including SSE witnesses and friends Craig Dearden-Phillips, Afrikids, Toby Blume…Duncan Bannatyne.

– Amongst countless "we need a new form of capitalism….now is the time for social enterprise" speeches and articles (to which I will no doubt contribute at some point….), this one by Charles Leadbeater struck me as one of the more interesting/thought-through:

"For most people the next year will not feel like a search for a brave
new economic model: it will be more like hand-to-hand combat to keep
hold of what you have……In all likelihood we will get a mix of subdued capitalism, social capitalism and ugly capitalism, even within the same cities."

– Social Firms UK do consistent, high quality work under CEO Sally Reynolds, and this is a thoughtful piece by her about why the model is important, particularly in the current climate

– Another kick for CICs; in this case from Apprentice winner Tim Campbell…..

– Jeff Trexler is never short of strong opinions; see what you make of this post: "The social enterprise movement has yet to grasp the extent to which it is as much a
product of the bubble as subprime loans and credit-default swaps–it's
not just a coincidence that do-gooders started talking business when
business was good

Great article on Camfed in the Financial Times; Camfed was started by SSE Fellow Ann Cotton.

Harvard Business School Global Business Summit Explores Future of Capitalism might be a title to send me running away, but there's some interesting stuff in here about what is needed to foster social entrepreneurship. Interesting to see business leaders still pushing venture capital and private equity models in this context as a route to solving social problems

– Lucy Bernholz, network queen of US philanthropy, has seen the future, and it looks like this

– I must mention Social Innovation Camp, to which SSE is a Community Partner: check out the site and send in your ideas…..deadline for submissions is coming soon!

– Lots of stuff being lined up for Global Entrepreneurship / Enterprise / Make Your Mark / Unleashing Ideas etc week (slightly confused branding, methinks…)……and SSE staff and representatives will be covering as much ground as possible: particularly on the 20th November which is Social Enterprise Day (coming just behind Christmas and birthday here, of course). Check out Unleashing Ideas for a sense of what's happening around the world.

– And finally, check out this story in the Huffington Post about how a book about "Green Collar" workers reached the bestseller lists. Just try not to wince when you read the bit about how revolutionaries are being replaced by "solutionaries", which must be officially the worst thing done to the English language this year….


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US social entrepreneurship podcasts and SoCap08

Busy week this week, but will hopefully get to a round-up later. In passing, worth drawing attention to some audio-visual material. New(ish) podcasts:

– The BeBold podcast which is from US social entrepreneur support organisation Echoing Green, co-hosted by prolific non-profit blogger Britt Bravo

– Also the PRI social entrepreneurship programmes (19 of these), as funded by the Skoll Foundation, are now also available through iTunes; worth noting the Skoll Foundation blog (see previous link) where I got that news from….

Over on the other side of the pond, the big recent news (apart from that little McCain-Obama stuff) has been the SoCap 08 conference. There is something about the language (SoCap, "at the intersection of money and meaning") which slightly jars with a UK sensibility, but there's been some interesting content. And much of it has been blogged about or can be viewed online: see Matthew Bishop's keynote on his new book Philanthrocapitalism below for example (you can find the book in the SSE store, though it's not released here till mid-November, presumably to tie in with Global Entrepreneurship Week; I've added Just Another Emperor? The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism for balance)….Worth digging around the blogosphere to find more nuggets.See if you agree with Bishop's optimistic view of the current financial situation…and about the relationship between business and the social sphere.

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