Fancy a cuppa?

Tea Post


Now with all Commonhealth projects well under way, and my involvement with a consortium project, a discussion arose between researchers regarding the way in which we conduct interviews within social enterprises.

How much do we really learn from formal interviews? Those types that you sit down and ask listed questions while that scary little Dictaphone sits there on the table, and you can almost in many cases see the fear flit across the participants face and the little bricks start to go up behind the eyes, as if it’s some sort of test or interrogation. Or when a participant picks up the phone and briefly after introduction hangs up, as that is very simple to do.(This usually only happens if a full dialogue has not been instigated beforehand and the researcher has not spent informal, but valuable, time within the organisation).

Individuals can be ‘guarded’ with the information that you gather and although explained, signed and consented feel that the information they provide may actually be used unethically, or that their honesty might end up back to the ‘wrong’ people. So how can we decrease this stigma of talking to interviewers and increase participation in research projects?

As a researcher in the social enterprise sector I have experienced this uncertainty and caution from interview participants, and I am sure I am not alone. The cultures of social enterprises are vastly different than those of private organisations and it can be argued that a different research approach, perhaps more informal is indeed needed, and could be far more effective.

An undervalued and underutilised question that can actually not only change perceptions, but gain access, rapport and relax a participant is simply ‘do you fancy a cuppa tea?’ Social enterprises are busy organisations, usually with minimum staff and finding the time for interviews (particularly if planned in advance) can be difficult. Everyone has time for tea. The informal setting facilitates a more relaxed interview and you’re not really seen as a researcher but as an interested party of the organisation (obviously no matter what role, you still are, but again, perception).

Scheduling interviews, in particular with social enterprises in rural areas where researchers have to travel to, can be problematic, it would be great to go up for a day and have one interview after the other scheduled, get them done and go. But how much are we actually learning from this? You want the organisations to stay on board, to work in partnership and collaboratively with academics, and this just would not build the rapport needed to create a long lasting relationship.

To be able to keep an open communication with social enterprises, becoming embedded in the organisation is not that far-fetched, by playing a part in their everyday activities it allows for easier access, more natural and accurate answers and observations, including introductions to people that under other circumstances you would not have had the opportunity to meet. The ability just to show commitment to the organisation and genuine interest breaks down the researcher/public barrier to an extent, and comfortability really is crucial in interviewing participants and staff as it will provide you with much richer data.

As a part of this piece I looked at the terminology ‘ethical stalking’ as this is what this form of integration could be perceived as. It sounds terrible as if researchers are out in trees with their binoculars monitoring social enterprises around the country. But in fact ‘ethical stalking’ is really just networking and particularly within the social enterprise sector the power of networking should never be underestimated. It opens so many doors and provides extensive opportunities. By getting to know social enterprises the knowledge gathered provides far more value than traditional interviewing techniques.

So what I would say is never underestimate the data you can gather from ‘hanging out’ and drinking tea. (Don’t tell the supervisors).

Melanie Liddell

Glass Ceilings and Sticky Floors: Women, Childcare and Rural Entrepreneurship


Last week I attended the 15th Annual Rural Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by Newcastle University. One of the opening plenary speakers was Professor Sally Shortall from Newcastle University who presented her work on ‘Rural Entrepreneurship and Women’. Sally had spent a year interviewing women working into rural business in Scotland, and exploring the inequalities and changing statuses within particular professions, such as farming.

Women within the farming industry are typically met with barriers as the inheritance and transfer of farms is still traditionally between male members of families, and very few women are on boards and committees. However, women farmers who took part in interviews with Sally were often very highly motivated andeducated, and were making informed choices to enter the farming industry, despite of these barriers. The women did not feel restricted, and were open to take part in farming, knowing that they might never own their own farm but instead making this lifestyle choice. Within other rural sectors, women Sally interviewed tended to be more interested in starting small businesses rather than gaining high profits or status. The types of businesses that were being set up were also more likely to fill some kind of social need. But, what Sally emphasised was this was NOT because of their feelings of inequality, lack of education or fear of failure, with one of her respondents stating:-

 ‘It’s not so much a glass ceiling, but a sticky floor’  

One of those ‘sticky’ aspects highlighted was childcare, with a motivation for women to set up their own businesses in rural Scotland to provide flexible working patterns and support networks. This is something that resonated with my own project, Growth at the Edge, and the women I have spoken to in areas I have visited over the past 6 months. Spending time with remote and rural communities has shown me that job opportunities are sparse and generally low paid, and markets tend to be particularly small. Moreover, job markets, educational facilities and public services tend to be located in larger towns and cities, often a couple of hours away (or on the mainland if living on an island), further adding to the difficulties of access to economic and social opportunity. This is where women in particular have been using innovative methods to tackle such inequalities.

In the Seaboard Villages, on the Fearn Peninsula, local oil and gas industries are in decline, and males within families are commonly seeking work offshore and abroad, therefore women predominantly have sole responsibility for childcare. In response, women have started their own local parent & toddler groups at the Seaboard Hall social enterprise as a place to bring their children without having to travel to the nearest large town. This has allowed young females to socialise, gain childcare and health advice, and make informal supportive networks in a very sparsely populated area. Similarly, in South Uist, a social enterprise called Cothrom was set up by a group of young mothers who were interested in creating training and education opportunities to fit with their childcare needs. Such opportunities simply did not exist on their sparsely populated island. What began in 1992 as a small group of mothers running a local sewing class has grown into large community development facility offering education and training across the islands, with its very own on-site nursery.  This means that women are able to study for qualifications and even gain work experience whilst their children attend nursery in the very same building.

Of course, Sally’s work is only representative of the views of those who were interviewed who were already engaging in rural business and farming. Nevertheless, moving forward, there is a need to understand existing barriers and motivations and the potential for social enterprise activity to make the floor a little less ‘sticky’.

Danielle Kelly

Musings on Project 8: Empowerment, Health and Social Enterprise

Chicken and egg 2


As project 8 is well and truly underway I have collated the data we have generated over the past three years and I’m working hard with my colleagues to establish connections, similarities and differences within the findings. Reading the published papers and delving into the raw data a common theme is emerging, around what might generally be considered ‘empowerment’. With this, I am starting to explore some of the different ways that empowerment is conceptualised both in the wider literature and within our data.

It is a word that has been growing in use in some circles since it featured as a key aspect of the Christie Commission and is of course the main feature of the Community Empowerment Act.

According to the Scottish Government website:

The Community Empowerment Act will help to empower community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings, and by strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them.  It will also improve outcomes for communities by improving the process of community planning, ensuring that local service providers work together even more closely with communities to meet the needs of the people who use them.

Another definition of empowerment, which was central to my PhD research, was that from Kabeer who defines empowerment as:

‘the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire the ability to do so’

In the context of the research we have carried out so far there are a range of experiences that individuals described which may be considered empowerment; improved confidence, sense of self-worth, personal pride and dignity. This is often coupled with an increased sense of purpose, meaning and motivation. While I continue to explore this data in more detail I will also consider the relationship between empowerment, health and wellbeing. Does one lead to the other? Which comes first? Or is empowerment a key component of health and wellbeing?

In their briefing on power and health NHS Health Scotland conceptualise power as one of the preconditions that are necessary to access healthcare, and exercise control over factors that determine health. In the simplest terms:

Empowerment 1

However, another option is that there may be a level of health and wellbeing that is required in order for a person to be empowered. For example, if a person is experiencing high levels of stress or physical pain they may not have the resources to enact their power. So here we have a situation in which:

Empowerment 2

This can lead to a chicken and egg situation (and finally the picture at the top of the post makes sense!) in terms of empowerment, health and wellbeing:

Empowerment 3


Another option in the relationship is that empowerment could be conceived of as a key component of health and wellbeing. Work has been done to capture what it means to live a ‘good life’ or ‘flourish’ and the power to make decisions is an important aspect of that. Does this mean it is a key component of health and wellbeing? Another consideration is a person’s ‘capabilities’ which reflect their freedom to lead the type of life that they want to, in which case empowerment can be seen as a key aspect of health and wellbeing and the ability to live a good life. Nussbaum developed a list of 10 capabilities which have been used to explore the impact of social enterprises working to support homeless people. My hunch at the moment is that there are aspects of empowerment which are inextricably linked to some of these capabilities and thus empowerment may be considered as a key component of health and wellbeing.

Empowerment 4

So now it’s back to the data to check out which option plays out in our data, whether it is a combination of all three, or if it is different depending on context and circumstance.

Clementine Hill O’Connor

What do we mean? Reflections on interviewing with interpreters

For the Housing through Social Enterprise research (CommonHealth Project 7), we are attempting to interview new tenants of three different social enterprises working in the housing sector. The first interview, conducted around the time when tenants move in to their new tenancy, is done over the phone, whilst follow-up interviews at 2-3 months and 9-12 months are undertaken face-to-face.

Because we’re trying to engage all new tenants in the project, this involves interviewing a wide range of people – all ages and all backgrounds. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the substantial increase in Glasgow’s ethnic diversity over the last couple of decades, some of the tenants we have been interviewing are relatively recent arrivals who are not yet fluent English speakers. So we’ve recently conducted a number of telephone interviews using interpreters, which led me to reflect a little on what we had learned through this process.

Firstly, working through an interpreter has been Interpreter symbol challenging, but also very useful in terms of thinking through how I describe the research. After dozens of interviews and many more initial contacts with potential research participants, it is easy to get into bad habits, rattling through the introductory spiel because I’ve said it so many times – forgetting that this is the first time that the tenant on the other end of the phone has heard it. And they’re probably thinking about something else anyway, because I’ve just interrupted their day. Breaking down the well-practiced pitch into bite-sized sections for interpretation has not been easy, but it’s really helped me to think about which points are really necessary and which are just academic waffle. For example, from our perspective it’s absolutely key that the research is about social enterprise, but for tenants this really doesn’t matter – given the challenges of defining social enterprise across countries, the last thing we need to do is confuse interpreters and tenants with terms that are really a kind of jargon. And this doesn’t just apply to speakers of other languages – if things don’t translate very easily into other languages, they probably don’t make much sense in everyday English either.

Secondly, we’ve also had to think hard about how things are translated in writing. As well as the telephone interviews, we are asking research participants to complete a short questionnaire about their health and wellbeing. Again, living in the world of social research it’s easy to assume that everyone is happy ticking boxes and understanding multiple choice question formats. In the 21st century world of endless online feedback surveys, that may be true to some extent, but we still need to think carefully about how questionnaires are worded and structured to ensure that they make sense to the respondent. As an example, I realised rather late in the day that one of the languages we were translating into is written right-to-left. The translation service did a great job of translating the questions and the answer options, but only after the fact did I realise that I would need to check that the tickboxes were also now running right-to-left.

Finally, reflecting on my own experience of working through interpreters, I was reminded just how challenging things can be for those involved in our research. The social enterprises themselves have to ensure that they can provide a service to tenants no matter which language they speak. And, more critically, tenants themselves have to navigate through a complex housing system at times when they are under considerable stress, so I am infinitely impressed at those who can manage to survive the journey when their first language is not English, let along the unique lingo of housing jargon. The next time I am getting frustrated at the number of tenants who don’t want to pick up my call or who aren’t instantly keen to participate in the research, I’ll remind myself just how hard life can be for those in desperate housing need.

Steve Rolfe

Ageing isn’t (just) a number…

Census large

Focus 50+ ends on 31 May 2017. As this will be my last blog for CommonHealth, I thought I would sign off by sharing some discoveries from my experiences during the past 22 months.

Like the time I tried to find out what the widely-accepted definition of elderly is. Turns out there isn’t one. Some people use age ranges, other people talk about the ‘older old’ being elderly (so who counts as ‘old’?!) You can’t definitively classify elderly by any physiological measure because the ageing process is too individual and varied. The Edinburgh Lothian Birth Cohort Study demonstrates that. They found the neurological ageing process is different for everyone, or in other words, some people’s brains age much more slowly than others. And unfortunately, some age much faster.

In Focus 50+, the most riotous interview I had was with a 91 year old who isn’t just living life, it felt like she is life! Sadly I also witnessed the decline of someone in their 60’s in a few short months, and the loss of a very special volunteer in one social enterprise who didn’t make it to 40. I was so glad I met him. He was some guy.

So what is going on beyond the genetics and lottery of birth that gives some people every advantage and opportunity, and others almost none?  The good news is there are some things you can do to improve your own health and wellbeing. If you want to live happier and feel healthier, think about embracing these:

  • Social relationships: They matter. They are also correlated with decreased mortality. Why? We don’t fully understand that yet.
  • Have a sense of shared identity and being part of a group: There is a well-documented and longstanding relationship between group membership and health & wellbeing in academic research. So keep going to the football, or hanging out with your knitting group. It really is doing you good. Even if the team lose or your knitting is as woeful as mine…
  • Feeling young is vital: It’s good for you to keeping feeling like you are 18 inside! Feeling younger promotes your health and wellbeing. Fortunately, we all tend to do it naturally. That’s why the Scottish Census graph above shows less than 20% of people aged 85+ regard themselves as being in bad health. This is called the Wellbeing Paradox i.e. older people’s self-reported health remains at a level similar to younger, healthier respondents despite natural physiological ageing and decline.
  • Be satisfied with your own ageing process: Combined with feeling young (see above) this is an indicator that is being used to measure positive wellbeing. Accepting that you will age and being satisfied that you are ageing well makes you feel more positive.
  • Comparing yourself with others: This is a bit of a sensitive one. Social Comparison Theory says we feel better if we can compare ourselves to others who are not doing as well as us. It helps us feel more positive about what we can do. But there is an upside  to this theory – if we are part of a group, we also feel better if one of our group achieves something amazing.

Of course ageing is tough and challenging for many people, but society really isn’t doing much to help anyone feel better about their chronological age. Age stereotypes abound, and we should all try to challenge them whenever and wherever we come across them. We’ll all feel the benefit if we do, particularly when it becomes our turn to be called older. Or old. Or elderly. Or past it (see what I mean?!)

I would like to sign off with a huge THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the Focus 50+ research – we literally couldn’t have done it without you! – and everyone involved in the Focus 50+ team, the CommonHealth Research Programme & the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health. Thank you all!

Fiona has been appointed Post-Graduate Research Fellow in Social Innovation and Public Policy in the Glasgow School for Business and Society from 1 June 2017.

The Gathering 2017

‘Do not fear the digital world, it will not kill us all’

Theophilus London

This week I had the opportunity to attend 2017’s ‘The Gathering’ hosted by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). Alongside the numerous third sector organisations (TSO’s) in attendance, there were a number of social enterprises and an extensive variety of information sessions, workshops and presentations, which really did resonate with me.

As I wandered around the exhibition between workshops, learning and mainly chatting (professionally, of course) to those in attendance, I noticed a common theme that was a significant focus among TSO’s today. And that was the revolution of the digital world. In a world increasingly ‘going digital’ from products and services, to impact reporting to funding opportunities, to name just a few, how does the ever changing and dynamic third sector evolve and keep up with their clients and communities digitally?

David McNeill, Digital Director of SCVO, posed the question ‘has the third sector evolved the way we deliver services to support individuals and communities in response to the digital world we live in?’ And from my experience I would say no, the sector has been quite slow in adopting the digital era, but from today’s event they are sure taking the steps to change this.

I attended OneDigital’s session on using digital tools effectively and it was a very practical set up. A little like speed dating with industry experts. With 18 tables of experts and only four half hour slots it was almost impossible to decide who you wanted to speak with, but they all provided you with what you wanted to know regarding their contribution to revolutionising the digital world in the third sector, and how this can support you and your organisation. It was exciting to see not only new software, but information databases, updated websites, streamlined search engines, even information regarding cyber security (highly debated among social enterprises, how safe is the cloud?), and these were great. But developing and providing better and more efficient systems is all well and good, so long as you have the technology acceptance of the staff…..

There was a brief mention of this and significant information regarding providing training, software and hardware, it was very inclusive of teaching the staff first, to then deliver to clients and the community too. But from previous research, a significant problem faced regarding anything digital is technology acceptance, it’s preconceived, and learned attitudes towards ‘all things digital’ that can have a significant negative impact on moving things forward. So, I’m not saying that what the sector is currently doing isn’t right; it’s influential just how far they have come, even just in the past year or so. But how do we address the culture, the attitudes and the guards that we know are already up?

The refreshing thing was to see just how many participants were in attendance at the digital sessions, showing the want to be more digital with their organisations but how can we ensure that this filters down effectively throughout the organisation?

In the coming years being digital will have a significant impact on third sector organisations, it will become a need for survival. You are unlikely to exist if you do not have a significant online presence, clients and communities need to have you right there, in their hands, for you to be noticed. And today’s event evidenced that there is significant support and commitment out there to help organisations do just that.

So as a social enterprise, voluntary organisation, charity, whoever you are in the third sector, are you ready to ‘go digital’? The help and support is there, but we need you on board. Let’s take the leap and continue to evolve the way in which we deliver services.

Melanie Liddell

Social Enterprise Strategy

se-strategy-image-2Following on from a previous post regarding the social enterprise strategy (here) it sparked my curiosity regarding other social enterprise strategies that had been introduced in other countries. At first glance (google searches and networking), they are few and far between, but with some terminology tweaking you can find them buried in the depths of Government policy and literature.

The name of the documents was interesting in itself; from strategy, to blueprint, to vision, to framework. Each one of these words creates a different perspective for the reader, is the document what the Government hope to see? Is it a document that incorporates a step by step process for empowering and expanding opportunities for social enterprises? Or is the document a collection of ideas that perhaps in time would be beneficial for the sector? And it is the word from the outset that establishes the reader’s expectations from such a document.

A concerning factor of the Scottish social enterprise strategy was the numerous grey areas alongside a certain vagueness regarding specific priorities and workstreams. And looking initially at another four ‘strategies’ (the names of the documents do vary), from various regions; this was also the case in three of them. The ideas, the opportunity, the potential buy in from readers’ was there, but the execution, the how we are going to achieve these, at times ambitious goals for the sector, were ambiguous. One document did break down a year by year, step by step process of how they were going to achieve sector sustainability by 2018. And it begs the question, although almost an operational plan, is this what Scotland’s social enterprise sector were hoping for with the new strategy, or do we prefer the flexibility due to the changing nature of such a diverse sector?

Although vague at times there were two prominent and recurring themes in all social enterprise strategies that will lead the way for social enterprises in the future, and that is collaboration and visibility. Both of these priorities were not only represented in all ‘strategies’, but are reiterated extensively throughout the documents.

The documents discuss and emphasise the importance of social enterprises working collaboratively with the Government, public sector, educational institutions and private sector. In turn this would reduce costs, share resources and create new opportunities in a variety of markets. These are crucial benefits for the sector, as with extensive funding cuts but increased opportunity and demand for services; the need for alternative resource is at its highest. For a sector striving for sustainability, collaboration would appear to be the answer. If this is now an international understanding, could it see a baseline for incorporating more international collaboration of social enterprises? Social enterprises taking the world by storm perhaps?

From the strategies analysed another recurring priority was social enterprise visibility to consumers. And looking at the social enterprise figures it is astounding how many are still unaware of social enterprises. There are 120,000 social enterprises operating in Thailand, 50,000 more than the UK (please note there are small differences in social enterprise classifications). The Scottish social enterprise strategy hope for the sector to be fuelled by consumer demand, and look to encourage ‘buy social’. Understandably with so many social enterprises operating worldwide, the need for consumer commitment and support is crucial in terms of survival. This is still in the learning phase for many, and it would appear to be an international challenge, but with implementation of strategies, it looks to change the perceptions of the public to understand the extensive work that comes out of social enterprises’ products and services. This in turn could lead to an internationally recognised certification for social enterprises, not just in Scotland.

Many of the social enterprise strategies identified have been implemented in the last 2-3 years with the exception of Wales who were ahead of the game in 2005. This is largely due to Governments identifying and understanding the significant contribution their social enterprises are having on their economies and the support in which they provide. Working together would increase opportunities and meet demand. But in the light of collaboration should Governments worldwide perhaps be discussing their strategies to see what is working so we can work towards the best strategies for the sectors? Learn from each other? They speak about collaborating with everyone but what if there was collaboration for policy to further support this ever growing sector.

So the question is, are these strategies/blueprints/visions/frameworks meeting, not just the expectations, but the needs of social enterprises worldwide? We can see that social enterprises are being more recognised by their individual Governments, particularly due to their contribution to economy and those incorporating support, legislation and policy do want to step up and increase opportunity, but are the documents instilling this? Can we expect to see progression to a worldwide social enterprise strategy?

With these documents being the first of their kind, the next stages (although many are looking to achieve sustainability), particularly in Scotland, should hopefully see a further understanding and descriptive, almost operational, process to move the sector forward. Perhaps this will come with the 3 year action plans?

Melanie Liddell