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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Learning from failure (and social entrepreneurship)

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!]

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SSE Yorkshire graduation video

SSE Yorkshire + Humber assembled a great group of social entrepreneurs for their first programme. Unfortunately I couldn't make their graduation a few weeks back, but here's a great video by one of the new SSE Fellows, Justine Gaubert, which does as good a summary of SSE's approach from a participant's perspective as I've seen. Enjoy.

SSE Yorkshire promo graduation from Justine Gaubert on Vimeo.

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The real deal social entrepreneurs in Yorkshire

Great to go and visit our Yorkshire and Humber SSE today, and not just because East Coast trains do free wi-fi (hooray)…but also much more importantly to get a catch-up on how the first programme is going up there, and to meet with three current students currently being supported.
What was great for me was that the relatively dry, formal points I had been making in the first part of the conversation were vividly brought to life by the real examples the social entrepreneurs brought up as they spoke. Here’s some examples of what I mean.

1) Formal version (me): “Social entrepreneurs build trusted relationships, form partnerships and gain practically useful contacts as a result of being together on the programme”

Real-world: John, who’s working on a project to build trust and improve relationships between neighbours, is now working with two other Y+H SSE students (Jay and Justine: there must be some sort of J cubed or 3J name in the offing) whose work complements his. Namely, a platform is built to get neighbours interacting (by John); recycled PCs (from Jay) enable people to get online more easily; and video stories (by Justine) provide content and evaluation material to demonstrate impact. As John put it, this makes it more of a package that has more value and is easier to sell.

2) Formal version (me again): “SSE gives them the time and space to reflect on what they are doing, in a trusted environment with like-minded people”

Real-world: Mani was talking about how his hip-hop empowerment work in schools had really taken off, and that he was massively busy in the day-to-day. He said that the SSE ‘forced’ him to take a step back, think about what he might have missed or forgotten, and bounce ideas / problems off other people. Otherwise he would have carried on going continuously at 100 mph.

3) Formal version (guess who): “The 18-20 students come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and bring a varied range of experiences, networks, information and skills to the group”

Real world: Chris, who’s just won a couple of awards (see here for more on him and Mani winning awards), and works on fuel poverty and eco-efficiency with housing associations was talking about how he came very much from a commercial business background. It was a chance meeting that led him into the world of social and ethical business, and he’d joined the SSE partly to get “a bit more of the social bit of social entrepreneur”. He added that he’d learned a great deal from people in the group, who he might otherwise never have met or taken time with.

Pleasure to see them and learn a great deal from them too.

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