Our time for research is up, but don’t worry you haven’t heard the last of us!

Our 5 year programme comes to an end this month, so in this blog we update you on how far we’ve come in that time and where we’d still like to go. And don’t just take our word for it, we’ve been gathering the perspectives of a host of experts too.

GCU Common Health Pic Peter Devlin

On Monday evening we hosted a Forum to mark the end of our research time here at CommonHealth. This included an exhibition of posters showcasing the findings from the 8 CommonHealth projects, reflections from 4 experts from the worlds of social enterprise and public health, and summaries from Prof Rachel Baker and Prof Cam Donaldson.

GCU Common Health Pic Peter Devlin

The distance travelled

Prof Rachel Baker introduced the evening summarising the advances made by the collective findings of the programme:

  • New evidence of the nature of the benefits realised through the activities of social enterprises across a range of geographies, industries, and activities, and working with people who have different needs and vulnerabilities
  • A developing discourse around social enterprise and public health and the interface between those ‘worlds’
  • Potential for new avenues of research in partnerships and lots to talk about for the future.

This was supported by Prof Cam Donaldson’s comments that:

“We have pulled off one the largest ever research programmes on social enterprise and managed to conceptualise and evidence a new idea for public policy; that any social enterprise, even without mentioning health in its mission, can be portrayed as acting on social determinants of health. This is because the various contexts in which social enterprises operate almost always involve addressing some aspect of social vulnerability that will likely be associated with health. As well as completing and publishing the results of our projects, CommonHealth has produced a cadre of talented researchers across Scotland, which is much needed for this important area of social and economic activity in which Scotland leads the way.”

Expert opinions

Pauline Graham (CEO, Social Firms Scotland):

“The project has made new connections within the sector and with policy –it’s been an example of research informing policy and policy informing research.”

Prof Carol Tannahill (Director of GCPH and Chief Social Policy Advisor to Scottish Government):

“CommonHealth has helped understand how social enterprise could be an important aspect of that fifth wave thinking, to develop a public health response that is located in communities, and with potential to impact on key challenges of social isolation and loneliness, and mental health.”

Leona McDermid (Chief Executive, Aberdeen Foyer):

“Social enterprise is a unique vehicle for bringing communities, organisations and the state together.  CommonHealth has highlighted the strengths of academic input and partnerships.”

Aiden Pia (Executive Director, Senscot):

“A strength of CommonHealth has been its commitment to getting out and about and including smaller Social Enterprises; acknowledging some of the under the radar organisations and bringing to the attention of policy the grass roots work at a local level. This is especially important in the context of the current public health review and using it to provide a springboard to localism.”

GCU Common Health
Pic Peter DevlinGCU Common Health
Pic Peter DevlinGCU Common Health
Pic Peter DevlinGCU Common Health
Pic Peter Devlin

Investment in the future

The investment made in CommonHealth by our funders, MRC and ESRC, has not only ensured a range of academic outputs, but built relationships with the Scottish Government, and the social enterprise sector. We hope that our research has provided valuable evidence that the sector can draw upon in years to come. Finally, all our researchers will be carrying on their work in a new range of projects, so watch this space for what comes next.

Thank you to all those who have participated in our research over the last 5 years –we couldn’t have done it without you.

Our researchers have been beavering away on three more briefing papers for you. One from Focus 50+ -our project that studies the impact of social enterprise on the health and wellbeing of older adults- and two from our project on impact management based on collaborative research with Aberdeen Foyer. We’ll launch them properly in the new year, but head to our website for a sneak peek!

Common threads in CommonHealth: weaving a tapestry of research

How do you draw concluding messages from a 5 year, multi-disciplinary research programme that involved 8 individual projects exploring pathways between social enterprise and health?

It’s a big question, right?! In this post we share how we’ve been approaching this task since March this year, and provide details of our upcoming knowledge exchange event where you can find out more…

In March this year the CommonHealth team met to share the emerging findings from each of the individual projects on the CommonHealth programme and to discuss to what extent we could see common themes, patterns and challenges arising from our data. We asked each project to prepare a poster illustrating their strongest, tentative and most surprising findings, allowing 5 mins for each poster presentation. Immediate feedback was given using a colour coded post-it system.


After some discussion, we formed groups and asked each group to produce a ‘picture’ of the findings across the programme –focusing on strongest findings and connections between the projects.

The day itself provoked a lot of discussion and questions around ways of defining social enterprise and our ability to compare outcomes while acknowledging the diversity of interventions. Another set of questions focused on the mechanisms that connect the work of social enterprises to health and wellbeing –can we represent these in a linear model? Are there ‘loops’? What can disrupt and break connections to health and wellbeing?

After working through these questions for the last few months we’d love to share our latest thoughts with you at our next knowledge exchange event that we’ll be running as part of GCU’s research week.

Come along to hear:

  • Researchers presenting the emerging findings from their projects
  • More detail on how we’ve been connecting the findings across the programme
  • Preliminary thoughts on our concluding messages
  • Group discussion and activities
  • Networking and refreshments!

We hope to see you there.

Common threads in CommonHealth, Tuesday 19th June 2018 (9.30am-12.15pm)

TO JOIN: sign up via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/research-week-common-threads-in-commonhealth-tickets-45800106351

CommonHealth Briefing Paper Series: Paper Number 6

Project 7: ‘Housing through Social Enterprise’ A summary of interim findings

Our latest Briefing Paper is based on a study conducted by Steve Rolfe at the University of Stirling comparing tenancy experiences with three social enterprises: Homes for Good, NG Homes and Y People. Steve is still busy conducting research, but the interim findings are promising so look out for more later in 2018!

The video below provides a short introduction and the paper is available here on our website.


As ever, we’re eager for feedback so please get in touch via email (commonhealth@gcu.ac.uk) or twitter @CommHealth_blog. 

CommonHealth Briefing Paper Series: Paper Number 5

No ‘golden age’, no ‘silver bullet’: what can history tell us about connecting social enterprise, health and wellbeing?

In our first Briefing Paper of 2018 Gill reflects on the emerging findings from Project 1: A historical perspective on social enterprise as a public health initiative.

The video below provides a short introduction and the paper is available here on our website.


As ever, we’re eager for feedback so please get in touch via email (commonhealth@gcu.ac.uk) or twitter @CommHealth_blog. Or if you are going to The Gathering next week stop by our stall for a printed copy! 

CommonHealth Briefing Paper Series: Paper Number 2

Contemporary findings from a series of Knowledge Exchange For a held as part of the CommonHealth Research programme

In the second of our briefing paper series, Visiting Senior Fellow Alan Kay reports on the 7 Knowledge Exchange Forums that we’ve held so far over the course of the CommonHealth programme.

We’re passionate about engaging as many people as possible in our research, but thinking through how best to do this has been a steep learning curve! We’re developing a slightly different strategy for Knowledge Exchange in 2018, so look out for our calendar of events to be posted soon. In the mean time enjoy Briefing Paper 2, you can click on the video below for a taster….

Briefing papers and videos are a whole new adventure for researchers used to producing heavily reference journal articles, thank you for your feedback so far, please keep it coming!

CommonHealth Briefing Papers Series: Paper Number 1

CommonHealth: the largest research project on social enterprise in the world in the world’s best environment for social enterprise!

Entering the fifth and final year of our research programme we’re turning our attention to output and findings. You’ll find us at various events over the course of the next year, including The Gathering and the Social Enterprise World Forum, but we’ve started to produce a series of Briefing Papers. These Papers will provide short, 4 page summaries of aspects of our research, and will be freely available from our website.

The first in the series, written by our principle investigator Cam Donaldson, provides an overview of the project. You can view and download it from our website, or click on the video below for a sneak peak…


This is a whole new adventure for researchers used to producing heavily reference journal articles, so any feedback on the papers and accompanying videos is wholeheartedly welcomed by the CommonHealth team!

John Pearce Memorial Lecture 2017 Laurie Russell, CEO, Wise Group

Laurie Russell’s address reflected on his career in social and economic regeneration in Western Scotland. In work spanning some 40 years, his journey through community regeneration initiatives in Clydebank to Chief Executive of Strathclyde European Partnership Ltd, and finally CEO of Wise Group from 2006 had intertwined with that of John Pearce at various stages. He also considered aspects of continuity and change in the sectors relationship with local authorities, governments in Holyrood and Westminster, and Europe.


Left to right: Laurie Russell (CEO Wise Group), Gill Murray (CommonHealth Researcher), Pamela Gillies (Vice-Chancellor, GCU), Cam Donaldson (Yunus Chair in Social Business and Health, GCU)


Cycles, waves and progress

Describing social enterprise in Scotland over the last 40 years, Russell suggested that the movement of the sector could be characterised by cycles, waves, and progress.

Cycles: expressed themes and issues that periodically reoccurred, rather than being ultimately resolved.

Waves:  illustrated the feeling of one step forwards and two steps back that sometimes seeped into his working life.

Progress: despite the cycles and the waves, for Russell, it is also possible to identify growth and a level of acceptance of social enterprise, especially in rural areas.

These movements certainly resonated with my own research into the history of social enterprise since the 1970s. Issues of definition and accountability, concerns over the ability of the sector to remain independent certainly appear to be cyclical. Relationships with local authorities and governments can often appear to move with the waves of election periods where a group of sympathetic champions are lost to (local) government cuts and/or restructuring. The evidence charting the development of the sector is growing, with the recently published Social Enterprise in Scotland: Census 2017 that follows the earlier 2015 publication. The body of evidence that we are producing at CommonHealth will also contribute to a better understanding the dimensions of the sectors progress over time.


The issue of trust cut across Russell’s lecture, describing how in the 1970s and 1980s when Urban Programme and European Social Fund grants were awarded there was a sense of trust that organisations were able to deliver what they had proposed. Russell suggested that while he is absolutely invested in the accountability of the sector the tight auditing and compliance regulations that are attached to funding today in some ways undermine the sense of trust between the sector and local and national government.

In the Q&A that followed the lecture there was a palpable feeling of frustration from some sections of the audience on the lack of support for (large) social enterprises in Scotland. Concerns were raised that despite the recommendations of the Christie Commission an SNP government who ‘talk Left, but walk Right’ are missing the opportunity to contract services from social enterprises who are deeply embedded in their local communities. This connected back to some of the concerns Russell highlighted with his experiences of Scottish procurement policies that are often unfit for purpose, based solely on application forms with no opportunity for meaningful dialogue. Russell called for policies based on practices he has experienced in England, where commissioners engage in a process of discussion and negotiation with those responding to tenders to ensure a good fit that aligns economic and social value and develops a productive working relationship.

Keep working, Keep talking

Acknowledging the frustrations Russell argued that the answer was to keep working. Throughout his career his motivation has been the personal stories of the lives of people that have changed for the better as a result of engaging with social enterprise.

Thinking of how the work we’ve been doing with the GCU Archive Centre and the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health, perhaps we have a role here in facilitating some inter-generational dialogue within the sector and translating the work the sector does to public sector and beyond.

reception crowd

Gill Murray