It has been a busy start to the year, and it seems like that is the case for everyone. Certainly everyone I bump into seems to be working very hard indeed, as the end of March 2011 looms large….No different here at SSE (lots of work across the network, graduations, launches, new programmes and more). Which is partly by way of explanation for why blogging has been a bit infrequent (many thanks to current intern Ryan for filling in), and why this is the first round-up for a couple of months. Anyway, here are the most interesting and (hopefully) relevant links from the last month or so: Continue reading
We've known for a while that SSE students build relationships and contacts and networks that are practically useful on the programme: indeed, that's a key outcome (our most recent data shows that 90% have kept in touch with contacts made during the course, and that these have helped in tangible ways; i.e. not networks for networks sake, but joint work, funding, volunteering, advice, introductions etc).We also know that partnerships form on the programme in different ways. Sometimes, though, it's difficult to track those outcomes and demonstrate the good work that emerges.
Three SSE Yorkshire Fellows, Jay, John and Justine, have partnered to work on an intergenerational project. They don't appear in this video themselves. But the results of their partnership and collaboration do; enjoy:
I’ve written before about my love of podcasts, and how they can spark off new ideas or generate new thinking on the way to and from work. My current fave is More Or Less, the Radio 4 programme about statistics, numbers, and how they relate to the news events of the day (often to politics and policy). This covers everything from the real value of the national debt to the comparative effectiveness of different contraceptives. It’s more interesting (and entertaining) than it sounds, and it is particularly useful to have that rational discipline and questioning mindset when, like me, you are giving a lot of thought to an organisation’s measurement and evaluation.
I mention all this because the main man of More Or Less is Tim Harford, also known as the FT’s Undercover Economist (incidentally, the book of that name is a great intro to economic thinking and gives useful insights into pricing, costing, markets and much else besides). He has a book being launched later this year called Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, and I’m looking forward to it to an almost indecent degree.
Why? Well, if you read my recent piece on how social entrepreneurs learn, or anything about SSE’s approach to learning, you’ll know that we are keen advocates of action learning or learning by doing. That the best learning comes from action, and that the most successful initiatives are not those with the perfect business plan, but those which learn from failures, mistakes and imperfections. That things get figured out on the frontline, not in back offices; that it is not academic ‘experts’ who solve complex problems, but practitioners with experience; that solutions are often better generated from bottom-up action and adaptation than top-down planning and grand strategies.
Indeed, it is that flexibility, agility, and adaptability that is identifiable in the best social entrepreneur-led organisations around, explaining their ability to both continuously improve and innovate their product and service, and also their readiness to seize opportunities and utilise untapped resources. The blurb for Harford’s book resonates strongly with this, saying that ‘out’ go experts, plans and (top-down) leaders, and ‘in’ come adaptation, improvisation, failing and learning (and trying again). And it looks like he will apply that thinking to big problems (Iraq, global warming, terrorism) and ‘small’ ones equally (everyday decisions in life and business).
While ‘nudging’ focuses on influencing (and changing) behaviours, adapting is more fundamentally about encouraging action before planning, overcoming obstacles as they arise, changing approaches rapidly and, most of all, about shifting the culture of risk-aversity to one of risk-awareness and even risk-acceptance. And further accepting that there will be failures along the way. It is an approach that makes most sense in a world in which contexts and circumstances shift rapidly, and in which the pace of society’s development (and life generally) seems to outpace the best-made plans of policymakers and theorists.
So 2010 might have been the year of ‘nudge’, but 2011 should be the year of ‘adapt’ (and the year after that….).
[NB – Some might then advocate for an ‘adapt’ unit at the heart of government, perhaps headed up by Tim Harford himself; but obviously that would be a top-down, strategic plan for adaptation with an expert at the centre…which wouldn’t really work at all :0) ]
I had the pleasure of visiting the SSE programme in Wigan and Leigh last week, to facilitate an ‘introduction to social impact measurement’ session with the students on the programme. I do love that experience of arriving in on a train to a place you’ve never been before, wandering down the road to a building, following the signs….and finding an SSE programme there just like the ones across the network.
I think the session went pretty well: great to meet the students and their projects at different stages, and help them think about the story that lies behind their work (aka ‘theory of change’), what tools and methodologies to think about using, and how much time and resources to commit to evaluation at this stage of their work. I like the process because on the one hand it challenges you to put numbers and objectives to the activity you are thinking of doing (and to what tangible difference you hope to make), and on the other it forces you to take your head out of the day-to-day of delivery and think about the broader context and overall story. Both timely and relevant activities for early-stage social entrepreneurs as they plan, work on communications, and set up systems and processes.
In the course of the couple of hours, before heading across to Liverpool SSE’s steering group meeting, we discussed ‘unintended outcomes’ as well: being open and alive to positive and negative effects that might not have been part of the original plan. They told me of a perfect example (which I’m reporting second-hand): how one Liverpool SSE student became Facebook friends with another one on the programme; via that network and a couple of conversations, he identified that this SSE student lived near his ex-partner and, as a result, close to his son…who he hadn’t seen for almost 18 years. He was able to get back in touch, and, in an appropriate tying up of loose ends, his son then attended his father’s SSE graduation.
Unintended indeed, but a great outcome. :0)
Hello everyone. It's Ryan!
Today I wanted to discuss something that hit me the other day when I was sitting in on an SSE Taster Day. Wale was talking about his business and the SSE…something he mentioned was how the SSE brings in all sorts of different people…different age groups, different backgrounds and ethnicities, and just people with different ideas overall. He said that it is so important that the SSE keep doing this as this experience is so important in life because these people all bring something to you. These different exposures not only make you a better and more cultured person, they bring new ideas, different approaches and perspectives to the table that wouldn't ever occur to you, as a student, without the exposure. In the context of the SSE, it helps all the students to be better social entrepreneurs as it helps them open their mind to so many different ways of going about creating a business.
I thought this was interesting as I agree it’s also so important in life to be able to do this… it just opens your mind completely and you can never understand how it will change you until you are exposed. For example, I can’t relate to a person living in bad areas until I have lived in bad areas or at least been exposed to the thoughts, the culture, and the people from these areas. It brings this idea…you can’t judge anyone on anything because the reasons behind our actions are based on how we are raised and in what conditions.
With this in mind, it also brings up the importance of how the SSE recruits people from all over London. There is an idea that was shared with me by someone on the staff and they said something along the lines of, "The people who know how to fix the worst areas of London are the people from the worst areas of London." It's a thought that never even crossed my mind, yet makes so much sense in context, especially anthropologically.
For example, it's great that people all over the world want to help refugees in Africa by making 'Westernized' schools and such, but perhaps this is the wrong approach. If we were to do this the SSE way, we would go in and support people from Africa that have ideas on how to make Africa better instead of applying our own cultural needs to theirs. It makes me think about the different ways I could help my own community at home… perhaps the people I would be best at helping are the homeless and less well-off people of the suburbs where I live, not necessarily the people from inner Chicago!
I hope you can understand my major 'brain dumping' here! Thanks for reading!