What are the policy and communications futures for social entrepreneurs?

My role at SSE is Policy and Communications Director, so in keeping with that, today a bit of policy, and a bit of comms.

First up, I contributed to the Society Guardian podcast (in association with KnowHowNonProfit which is well worth a look) and produced excellently by Sound Delivery, an organisation started by SSE Fellow Jude Habib. With Public Services editor David Brindle as host, I joined Stephen Bubb from ACEVO in the Guardian's impressive in-house studios, and we discussed the Big Society, the new influx of MPs with a charity background, and the renaming of the Office of the Third Sector to the Office of Civil Society. You can listen / download here for our thoughts on what's ahead.

Secondly, from a communications perspective, this slideset came across my radar from the ever-industrious Ben Matthews at Bright One. It's an initiative called Charity Comms 2020, and features great tips, advice and future thinking about how communications will change in the future for the sector. Jude pops up again here, along with a whole host of media experts and practitioners. Here's the set of slides:

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Learning by doing: a social entrepreneur’s take on Big Society

LearningRevI've been reading a few of the responses to the Big Society vision outlined by the new government. For example, you can get Stephen Bubb's take at ACEVO (pdf), and Martin Brookes et al's perspective at New Philanthropy Capital. Both worth reading if you get the time, raising some interesting challenges.

But a response that resonated with me from our work here at SSE was one that came through to me on my TheyWorkForYou alert (timely, seeing as we are now in a new era of open data): Lord Mawson, who founded (with others) CAN and the Bromley-By-Bow Centre, put forward his thoughts in the House of Lords in the Queen's Speech debate. You can read the whole thing here, but I've selected a few sections that stood out to me from the social entrepreneur / practitioner's perspective. Seeing how this was picked up and covered once I'd tweeted it round, it seems that others also found it relevant. Key points? Back people, not structures; encourage "learning-by-doing" environments; cross-sector partnerships; don't reinvent, but build on the work of those who have innovated.

Lord Mawson:

"We all know that it is crucial for a new Government to lay solid
foundation stones on which real change and development can grow. Real
change is elusive and may not come to fruition until a Government have
left office. Effective innovation can take a generation and requires
committed individuals to champion it. It is rarely captured in a policy
document, written by what my colleagues affectionately refer to as "the
bright, young things". Real change has to be grown and deeply rooted in
communities, otherwise, as I suspect that new Labour is discovering, it
will be blown away like the sand when the first gust of wind comes


"…What are the lessons? How do you create a big society and lift the game
in education, health and welfare? First, I would suggest that this
Government support organisations that already have a successful record
of reforming public services. Do not reinvent the wheel, but build on
what works. They should back success and learn from their many years of
detailed practical work. Do not, as new Labour so often did, take their
best ideas, pass them to the Civil Service machine and exclude these
experienced innovators. Let them take the wheel. Support them and enable
their efficiency. Do not think that it is now the Government's job to
take control. It is not. They should take the long-term view.


"I would ask the Minister how he will practically encourage new
environments where people 'learn by doing'. Will he get his hands dirty
by planting the seeds of enterprise in the fertile soil outside the
comfortable but dry world of theory? If this new generation of
politicians is to gain any understanding of how the real world works in
practice, and not hide in the bubble of Westminster, I would humbly
suggest that each Member of Parliament should become involved in one
project in their constituency to play their part in building the "big
society". Do not pontificate about it: do it. Legislators might then
begin to understand the relationship between legislation and practice
because attempting to deliver a new school, health centre or service is a
practical nightmare nowadays, given the number of contradictory hoops
laden with half-baked ideology that practitioners like me have to jump
through. The confusion that exists between delivery and democracy is a
minefield. The micro is the clue to the macro. Learn from it and gain
the public's respect in the process.


"the idea that devolving power to local authorities will deliver a
plurality of outcomes is not always correct either. Local authorities
are not neutral when commissioning services. They often have an aversion
to selecting innovative approaches because they do not understand them.
Many of their staff have only ever worked in the public sector. They do
what they have always done, but change the wording on the forms to
please the Government of the day. Look carefully and you will still see
the same bodies under new clothes. Local authorities are often the least
likely to choose an innovative approach to service delivery…


"Partnership is a great thing and the present financial crisis is the
time to embrace innovation. Never miss the opportunity presented by a
good crisis. If you are to deliver, I would humbly suggest that you do
not rely on structures or theories, but on people. Back the best people,
be they in the business, public or social enterprise sectors, and,
funnily enough, you will be fair to everyone."


On reading it all again, I'm also struck by his focus on relationships, and trusted relationships as the foundation of useful, productive partnerships. This was also something that came up continually at the Chain Reaction Stronger Communities event last week, and seems central to painting the right pictures on the canvas of Big Society.

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Reflections on elections (for social entrepreneurs)

ElectionIt's looking more likely that either a Conservative minority or Con-Lib Dem coalition will be coming into power following one of the more unpredictable and uncertain elections in recent times. Indeed, as happy as I was to be asked for my opinions on what was "great", what we should "hate" and what would be our priority from a new government, it did seem (and still does!) a little premature. So what's the news for social entrepreneurs?:

– All the parties are broadly supportive of social enterprise + social entrepreneurship, so this area can actually be a place of coalition + partnership: a thing they agree on. This could be a good thing (stuff might happen) or it might mean that the focus and priorities are elsewhere. This article, which quotes Nick Hurd and Jenny Willott, implies that the cross-party consensus makes it more likely that this will be an area of progress.

– Local still matters. It was interesting that Shaun Bailey, the Conservative social entrepreneur candidate in Hammersmith, failed to win. But many think this was largely a rejection of the council's activities (link is to an Independent article, which is refuted here) rather than Bailey himself, or a reflection of pretty equal campaigning resources on the ground. Countless other constituencies reflected local concerns and issues, rather than national ones.

– Bailey was front and centre of the Big Society idea as well (the Big Society blog gives updates / discussion). Much has been written on this too, from those on the left who see it as a cynical front for Tory cuts in welfare, and those on the right who view it as near-Fabian in its communitarian aspirations. My feeling is Patrick Butler has it about right in this round-up: "the election knock-about over David Cameron's 'big society' has
somewhat obscured, misrepresented or trivialised some of the ideas
within it";
and a group of social entrepreneurs and support agencies have signed a letter to that effect, 'defending' civil society.

Not to say that the idea shouldn't be questioned, investigated, challenged and critiqued (most cogently by Rob Greenland), but it has tended to be simplified to "volunteering" in the newspapers. And the debate has rather ignored that most of the policies in the social enterprise / entrepreneurship space are similar on both sides, and that, simply, cuts will happen. The disagreement on cuts can be about how much, how fast and where they are targeted, but there's little disagreement between the parties that social entrepreneurs and the wider civil society will be expected to grow and do more.

– Social Enterprise Magazine has a round-up of those MPs (relevant to social enterprise) who have lost, gained or saved their seats. Whatever happens, we will have a new minister for the Third Sector (or Civil Society), as Angela Smith lost her seat as expected; as did previous minister Phil Hope in the even more marginal Corby.

– On a lighter note, SSE Fellow Susan Archibald stood against Gordon Brown in his Kirkcaldy constituency, and just narrowly failed in her attempt….she is, however, the most searched person on the SSE website this week…

– And finally, it's interesting to consider that the politicians are now having to take on what they always encourage from us: partnership and coalition working. We won't know the result for a bit, but we can certainly guarantee a significant amount of resources, time and energy expended on partnership formation….problems over governance + agreeing process, and bringing the people in both organisations with them will be a challenge.

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Brief social entrepreneurship thoughts on the Conservative manifesto

In the spirit of yesterday's brief look at the Labour manifesto, here's a look at the Conservatives' new document. Again, I'm not going to plough through all the detail that the Coalition has pulled out, or has already been discussed over several preceding weeks.

Much of the relevant stuff for social entrepreneurs was announced in the Big Society launch the previous week, with a Big Society Bank (also utilising money from unclaimed assets) providing finance to neighbourhood groups, social enterprises and charities; and also providing funding to intermediary bodies with a "track record of supporting and growing social enterprises". There's also the national citizens service, as well documented elsewhere, and the training up of independent community organisers to establish neighbourhood groups. It will be interesting to see where community organiser ends and early-stage social entrepreneur begins, I think…or when neighbourhood groups formalise their work and begin to trade or win contracts.

There is some interesting back to employment stuff, including a community learning fund to help people restart their careers, and "Work For Yourself" which gives access to mentoring + loans. Like Labour, employee-led and owned co-ops to deliver public services feature, as does the opportunity for parents to start new schools (still a very emerging space, this one). An intriguing one, and one that could be really interesting (given so many of the barriers are about culture, mindset and understanding) is recognising participation in social action in civil servants' appraisals.

Not much revelation then, but reading both these party documents, and acknowledging that government is only part of the social entrepreneurship world and space (and that there's much that needs detail and grounding), one has to stand back and recognise how much more recognition and understanding there is across the political spectrum of what this movement can contribute.

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Brief social entrepreneurship thoughts on the Labour manifesto

Labour's manifesto came out today, as you may have noticed from the ubiquitous blanket coverage everywhere. So I won't linger on the subject. Suffice to say that the Coalition have done a good job of pulling out all the relevant detail for social enterprise + social entrepreneurs in the document. So that we don't have to ;0)

I'm most happy to see the "Promote the creation of more social enterprise hubs in every community", which was one of the five big calls in our Social Entrepreneurs Manifesto (authored with, by and for social entrepreneurs and other support agencies). I would add that I think it is crucial that these hubs or community anchors have people development and support built into them: as we all know, the most important assets in a community are the human ones, and the most important resources are human too. It might also be interesting to think about where these might be situated: where are the social enterprise shared spaces in smaller towns, rural areas, or deprived boroughs? (there's a session coming up at Shine about exactly this)

Otherwise, much as expected: Social Investment Bank, Social Impact Bonds (both of which I think we'll see from the Conservatives also, though they may be called something slightly different), more right to request, more asset transfer, and so on. Good to see community shares and community land trusts in there as well, along with some useful financial exclusion stuff: often overlooked but potentially massively important initiatives. A disappointing lack of numbers though; the only things with a number next to it are the Future Jobs Fund (to be continued to support 200,000 jobs) and the Social Investment Bank (£75m): that's to be expected, I guess, as the reality and detail that flow from the language become apparent over the next five years of whichever government wins.

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