A small and clear presentation about the Big Society

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.



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Social enterprise and entrepreneurship links from August

Card2028-376x230 Lots to do, lots to read, lots more to do….

My last post-holiday round-up seemed to go down well, so thought I'd do the same for August as I did for July. No particular rationale, just stuff I've found interesting or think might be relevant. Hope it is. Enjoy:

– The big hairy article of the month was in the Economist (I assume by Matthew Bishop), titled "Social innovation: let's hear those ideas" which covers how the US and UK governments are seeking to encourage social innovation and social entrepreneurship. Also includes cogent round-up of Big Society agenda to date.

– If you're interested in working out what the hell is happening with Local Enterprise Partnerships (*entire readership switches blogs*), then this round-up is the best place STILL to do so.

– Some interesting stuff written about the Big Society. Dai Powell of HCT's ("The clock is ticking on the Big Society") and Geoff Mulgan of Young Foundation's ("Can the Big Society be more than a slogan?") stood out for me, along with Craig Dearden-Phillips call for a constructive, engaged response See http://del.icio.us/SSE/bigsociety for more

Twenty by Twenty: twenty essays on future of social enterprise, charity et al by good (as well as big) names

– Great social media decision-making guide for social entrepreneurs / non-profits from US experts Idealware

– Good piece in the New York Times about a social entrepreneur (don't be put off by the title): What Exactly Is A Social Entrepreneur?

Giving is no longer a government preserve: interesting piece in the Telegraph touching on social entrepreneurship + big society

Amanda Jones of RedButtonDesign in Director magazine on the trials and tribulations of raising funding/investment as a social enterprise

– Nice (Canadian) round-up of summer reading for social entrepreneurs which of course you can buy in the SSE bookstore

Social enterprise start-up: 3 lessons to learn….by Involver

Worry isn't work: Don't be Anxious! wise words from Dan Pallotta in Harvard Business Review; now if I could just follow his advice…

– Happy tale of a women's social enterprise (minicabs for women only) struggling, thriving and becoming the subject of a BBC comedy show

Ten tips on elevator pitches; I think the Brits aren't as good at this stuff (myself included); I think we do escalator pitches….so will try and read 5 lessons from 150 start-up pitches as well

Merger advice for small and medium orgs + collaboration advice from Bassac and others….

– ….and, for balance, an argument on DSC against merger: Total efficiency is the enemy of freedom

Pollgate: the results of the storm in our own particular UK #socent teacup; but gratifying nonetheless!

Freeing the Social Entrepreneur: a piece in Stanford Social Innovation Review well worth reading, covering founder syndrome, leadership and much more

– Great video on the Homeless World Cup and its impact: warms the cockles and all that

The Social Intrapreneur: a field guide for corporate changemakers…. ; well, those MBA-ers had to come up with something :0)

– Alex Nicholls says Social Entrepreneurship Is Growing Up on Dowser.org. Which I would heartily endorse. So I'll end with the good professor's words. Cheers:

”We're moving into a period of much more critical analysis of social entrepreneurship. We've ridden a wave of consensus; we're all hugging each other and patting ourselves on the back. There's been lots of money pouring into this and support from governments. I think all that's changing. We've had an economic calamity, governments are looking at austerity, foundations are pulling back, the media and others are getting more critical. I think we're going to have a critical decade for social entrepreneurship, and that's great. It's high time we looked at the stuff that's useful and does have impact and the stuff that has no impact at all, and I think we're going to have a big reality check. The hero-worshiping, self-congratulatory period's over. I don't see that as a challenge; I see it as a sign that we're growing up.”

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Partnerships 2: should social enterprises date, co-habit or marry?

Goteam Typically, two days after I write a long post about partnership (and thanks for those who've commented, tweeted etc positively), a great podcast comes up on my commute in to work on….partnership. So I'll keep this brief: this podcast, Strategic Restructuring by David La Piana, is brilliant. On mergers, on partnerships (of different types), on what role funders and practitioners can play, and much much more. Some quick highlights:

– great comparison of non-profit partnerships to relationships: know whether you are dating, living together, or getting married for ever…

– effortless demolition of the "there are too many charities and social enterprises" argument

– realism on mergers: they normally don't save money, culture is most important, it needs to start with mission, economies of scale (or lack of therein) etc, etc

Highly, highly recommended for social entrepreneurs, funders, policymakers and all in the sector (+ check out all the various materials at the bottom of the page for more). I've also added it to our list of recommended podcasts, and you can find more sense-making stuff from David La Piana at LaPiana.org

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Is a Social App Store just Toolkits 2.0?

AppstoreI was inspired to write by the latest issue of Third Sector magazine this week. Not a sentence I've written too often, perhaps, (tend to rely on it for news, rather than inspiration…) but there were three thought-provoking pieces in the current issue.

The first was what is probably the best interview I've read with Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, on the Conservative approach to the sector. There are some good challenges  here for naysayers and cut-watchers alike, and a good summary 'progress report'.

The second was by John Kingston of Venturesome asking "How can we increase supply of capital to the third sector?' I'll cover that in a forthcoming post on Big Society Bank / social investment

And the third was a great challenge from Craig Dearden-Phillips to move away from just complaining politely about cuts (and doing so ever more loudly) and to think radically about how to react, survive, thrive and reconfigure in the current context. To be constructive about the Big Society agenda.


To that end, I've been reading up on one initiative bubbling away in the affiliations of the Big Society Network: the concept of a Social App Store. David Wilcox, arch social reporter, suggested this as an idea and it has begun to be shaped and formed online by the contributions of others. His outline of it is here, and you can read the subsequent discussions here. The concept is summarised as follows:

It will aim to offer online users simple navigation to easy-to-use
content and tools for social action – some free, some paid-for. It will
offer developers of how-to materials for social action the opportunity
to showcase their existing work, and work with others to develop new
offerings. By creating a substantial market place it will provide
developers with an incentive to develop or re-purpose materials in
formats easy to use by those new to social action.

In principle, I like a lot about this: making ideas accessible, thinking radically about how we can scale up their take-up, a commitment to openness, the potential largeness of reach, democratising design / co-production, utilising new tech to connect, providing a real product (or even 'shopfront') to what big society is and means, financial transaction / trading element and so on. Much to build on and work with here.

My constructive questions or concerns are: is the language alienating (does it smack of metropolitan smart-phone-owning tech-savvy people etc)? Others, including David, have noted this already though, and suggested alternatives. More substantively, it is the communicated sense that this type of social action can be 'downloaded and installed' (to borrow the terminology) so simply. Implementation of such work is not one-click and instant, but, often, achieved with hard slog and determination over the long haul. And it is often challenging and difficult and messy. Where I can get up and running with an app or MySociety website cleanly and instantly, other social projects and tools need support, capacity, confidence and persistence to put into action.

The associated risk, therefore, is that this is just toolkits 2.0: everyone in this sector knows there is a toolkit or a resource for everything from community planning to social impact measurement, and also that creating the content after the project (because you wrote it in the bid) is often the easy bit. An online store of these won't change that. (see Richard's recent post on SE Toolbelt for a similar take). Materials, by definition, are only the substances out of which things are made.

So my suggestion is to think and proffer questions about what offline support might look like: who the store workers or shop assistants might be, and where they might be located. Are they voluntary, app-ointees, connected to existing local networks? Are they located in actual stores (as David Barrie suggests in his response in the group discussion)? Where are the learning loops or support networks for those 'downloading' from the store, and what might those look like? Or is there a phone hotline to talk through problems? (the equivalent of e-mailing the app developer?) Will there be any quality control or measurement of success (app-raisals?), or is it genuinely radical in its devolving of trust and, possibly, resource?

Much to ponder, but also much to build.

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Partnerships: are you the Bono and Frank Sinatra of social enterprise?

PartnershipBeen giving much thought to partnership of late. Whether this is due to celebrating my second wedding anniversary (gifts to SSE towers please…), I'm not sure. I think it was more from listening to the NPR All Songs Considered podcast recently about the oddest musical pairings. There were some great throwbacks (Aerosmith + Run DMC, Nick Cave + Kylie etc), but also some absolute clunkers. And even worse than Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat (oh yes), was Frank Sinatra and Bono's version of I've Got You Under My Skin. It is an object exercise in how to achieve less than the sum of your parts….

So what makes for successful partnerships? How can two (or more organisations) create additional value together? Or, to put it another way, how can you ensure you create Walk This Way and not Opposites Attract?

I revisited part of a slideshow I did a little while back on partnership.

Some key questions there, and some thoughts about the nature of the partnership (its formality, its structure, its level of capacity and resource needed and so on) you might be thinking about. And how form should follow function.

Other questions to think about might include:

– what are you hoping to achieve?
– who proposed the idea? (and why?)

– does it fit with mission, vision, values, strategy etc?

– will it add value?

– are the activities complementary or competing? (NB Bono is not complementary to Sinatra)

– who will lead? (and in what areas…)

– is the scope of ambition and timescale realistic?

– are the verbal commitments above and beyond the possible?

– are the right mix of skills on board?

– are the cultures similar? (culture clash is a common barrier)

– is the size and experience similar?
– how do you avoid over-bureaucratisation, over-administration, countless meetings etc? but still have good governance?
– what should be captured in writing? (how formally? MoU, SLA, HoA etc); don't forget the money; don't overcomplicate…

…and so on. All other questions welcome (feel free to add in the comments below).

From an SSE perspective, we are in lots of partnerships (indeed, our franchise network is a network of long-term partnerships) for all sorts of different purposes. Our experience is that success comes down to people: trust, openness, candour, shared ethos, and positive intent. Without those, even the most compelling proposition on paper is destined to fail. Which can damage one or both of the organisations involved.

After all, where is MC Skat Kat now?

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