It is a time of significant change in the world of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship, where markets shift, cuts take hold, and new opportunities beckon from the horizon. And as available finance becomes constrained, so the focus rightly becomes cost effectiveness. Sadly, in the case of many local authorities, the emphasis has been on the ‘cost’ (and offloading those that are easiest) rather than the ‘effectiveness’ part of the proposition. Matthew Pike makes this point in a recent Guardian article, citing the short-term view of local authorities and the problems this is storing up for the future. Continue reading
– Not officially September, but as I'm late, two events from early October worth following up on were SoCap 10 and SBC10. Check out the tweets (#socap10 #sbc10) and videos etc online if you couldn't be there like me.
– Stats + definitions: a generation hangs their head as the debate continues…. new research questioned how many social enterprises there are, which also prompted a call for clarity of definitions
– More forward- (and outward-) looking was Pamela Hartigan's interview on Dowser.org explaining why you don't have to be a social entrepreneur to make change, but it's good to know what they are…
– I'm pretty much in whole-hearted agreement with many of Malcolm Gladwell's points in this New Yorker piece on the limitations of Twitter + Facebook in creating change
– Global social entrepreneurs were excited by the Unreasonable Institute and Echoing Green applications opening. SSE is a pipeline partner to Unreasonable, so we're looking forward to seeing who they get on board this year; hopefully some SSE Fellows will be encouraged to apply
– Suffolk was the county on everyone's lips as they announced their intention to outsource "virtually all" services to social enterprise….
– …while Suffolk councillor (and social entrepreneur) Craig Dearden-Phillips wrote openly about the need (and lack?) of financial incentives for social entrepreneurs
– Big Society-wise, I have mostly been enjoying Karl Wilding (NCVO)'s neat overview presentation, Paul Hodgkin (SSE Fellow / Patient Opinion)'s article on importance of conversation + technology, and Radio 4's Analysis programme on Big Society (hat-tip to SSE colleague Ian Baker for the latter)
– Jonathan Jenkins (from UnLtd Ventures / Advantage) is as good as anyone on social investment, and this article on the need for angel investment brings out some of the key points, and the key current problems, of this emerging market
– David Robinson, one of the most quietly effective leaders in the social sector, writes about (and welcomes) the first pilot Social Impact Bond
– Social Entrepreneurs Ireland held their latest awards event, which I heard was fantastic: round-up and article on the event here
– Rod Schwartz got a good debate going about mergers, partnerships and egos in social enterprise
– Paul Light is a US professor who's been beavering away at social entrepreneurship for many years; he knows his stuff, as this Just Means interview makes clear
– The Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme had its closing event: details and photos on the website
– Tim Harford, who I'm a fan of on More or Less, has written a couple of interesting critiques of 'nudge' theory (behavioural economics stuff); see Nudges are for Markets, not Nations and To Nudge is One Thing, To Nanny Another
– And finally, because everyone loves a list, Inc.Com's 10 tips for managing a one-person sales force (a concept familiar to many of our students…) and this great post of 15 excuses for not making ideas happen.
Presumably no. 16 is writing a blog post to delay other work. On which note, over and out.
There's been much written and said about the Big Society but it's been sometimes difficult to get clarity on what it means, what's happening, and what the opportunities are. In some areas, that's still unclear (and will be until post October 20th, when government announces its spending plans in the Comprehensive Spending Review), but this presentation by Karl Wilding over at NCVO is as clear as it gets. Enjoy.
I attended a fascinating lunchtime seminar the other week. It's not often the words 'fascinating', 'lunchtime' and 'seminar' are used in juxtaposition, so thought I would share some of the key points from the session. It was called, Trial, Error and the Big Society though it was more 'trial, error and failure in the public policy sphere' in reality (it would appear you're actually not allowed to hold any event currently without the words Big + Society in the title…). Aubrey Fox, who has been working at the Young Foundation, was talking about the lessons from his work at the Center for Court Innovation, and his associated book Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure
Despite my lack of knowledge about the criminal justice system, Aubrey was thankfully making some points of more general relevance which I was able to make sense of. And I think there are some interesting lessons for both social entrepreneurs and those who support them. This is all in the context of "there is failure in anything you do" and "failure is difficult to talk about":
1) Failure is in the eye of the beholder: a binary view of pass/fail does not reflect the complexity of most project outcomes, nor the experiences of those taking part in it in some way; success looks different to different people, and so does failure
2) Working once doesn't mean it will work forever (or somewhere else): this is a fascinating one for us, because we franchise our model and are passionate about replication that works; but there are countless external factors beyond 'the model', and a constantly changing environment
3) Leadership is crucial: Aubrey made the interesting point that 'boring' leaders are better than 'heroic' leaders; it is also about different stages of leadership for different elements of a project….and how to achieve those leadership transitions (often a point of failure)
4) Work to close the gaps between policy + practice: still these two groups are not effective at working together (I know, shock!); but ways to avoid failure involve a two way street of nudging or incentivising or de-risking or facilitating policymakers to be more creative, and also training, supporting, developing practitioners to effectively run and sustain what they do and not to fall into the trap of…
5) …the 'seductive power of unrealistic expectations': another great phrase, and one that I've termed the risk of "overpromise and under-delivery"; actually, changing behaviours and cultural norms at an individual level (never mind organisational or system level) is very difficult; and there is an assumption (is this correct?) that "projects would not win (public) support with modest results"; but that is a short-term win rather than a long-term success outlook…..
Further points of interest were
– that the consequences for individual failure differ depending on the project or sector (i.e. it's fine for James Dyson to trial 550 different hoovers and throw them out, it's not the same with, say, young offenders)
– that structural leadership (of teams, of coalitions) with agreed analysis and measurement is important
– defining what success looks like too early can put a limit on ambition (aka "sometimes you need to hold your nerve")
– the burden of proof in the sector is often on the new, rather than the existing
– the value of "calculated candour" (a phrase I love), which speaks to the need to be open without being reckless, to being as straightforward as possible about what has worked and what hasn't; because openness builds trust, which builds credibility builds support….
– areas ripe for innovation might be those where the risk (and cost) of the status quo is higher than the risk (and cost) of innovation
– couple of interesting questions; one that doesn't get asked (what is your expected failure rate?) and one that was difficult to answer (what is the motivation for individuals to take risks and to admit failures?)
At that point, brain expanded, and tried to come back to work…learning and failing, learning and failing.
[hat-tip as ever to the wonderful Indexed blog for the image; buy the postcard book via the site!]
A little while back, I wrote a post about whether a trust-based society could help square the public service delivery circle: the idea being that, in a time of fewer resources but greater need, removing middling tiers of bureaucratic infrastructure from top-down projects could help more resources reach the grassroots and allow more delivery and impact to take place. That a 'contract-based' society that emphasises monitoring rather than measurement, accountability rather than transparency, is actually a hindrance to genuine devolution. (On that subject, there's an interesting piece worth reading on whether we there is now a risk of a new 'transparency bureaucracy' being created….).
There is an updated version of the paper SSE's chair Charlotte Young has written on this subject, downloadable as a pdf, which asks (and begins to answer): How Can Social Entrepreneurs Help Build A Big Society (pdf)
I was reminded of this reading this article yesterday by Aditya Chakrabortty about A Revolution in Global Aid which describes how cash is starting to be simply, well, given to the poor. No large infrastructure projects with government-NGO-private sector partnerships, but a devolving of money straight to those who need it. On the one hand, cash transfers like this sound ridiculously naive (as some of the comments below the article say), but it is actually about focusing on the best use of resources, about challenging the status quo, about being aware of the risks but being prepared to be radical. And about focusing on the outcomes, rather than on the intermediary processes and bureaucracy.
So, without wishing to sound like a hippy seeking to hug it out with all and sundry, I do wonder if trust could be a core part of the answer to the question that so many are asking in different ways: how can we deliver more for less? how can we achieve more efficiency but increase impact? how can we use the current circumstances to foster innovation at the grassroots? how do we create a big society?
And trust comes in different forms: not just trust from official bodies that money will be spent in a particular way, not just the trust that needs to return in those official institutions (political, financial), not just the trust to be (re)built in communities and between neighbours, not just the trust each social entrepreneur needs to build in their own work and those who support them, but also the trust in oneself to create and be part of change. As a wiser man than I put it (the playwright Chekhov), "You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible".
[hat tip as ever to the utterly brilliant Indexed blog for the image]