CommonHealth Briefing Papers Series: Paper Number 3

Project 4 ‘Passage From India’: a summary of the key findings and recommendations

In the third of our Briefing Papers researcher Clementine Hill O’Connor reports on the findings from an ethnographic study with WEvolution, an organisation that facilitates the development of Self Reliant Groups across Scotland.

Find out more by watching the short video below. You can access the full paper here

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!

The Craft Cafe: A creative to solution to the challenges of ageing

The Craft Café in Govan is a programme for people over the age of sixty and is a place where they can meet, socialise and pursue creative ideas. It is run by the charity Impact Arts and offers creative solutions to tackle the challenges of ageing. I am the Artist in Residence. I handle the daily management of the Café and run art workshops. In its eighth year, it is now well established with 40 regular members and around 20 attending each day.

I don’t measure people by their age but just see their individual personalities. But I do acknowledge that age brings with it certain issues:

  • One of the most obvious is health – it can be a battle to not let ill health control your life.
  • Loneliness- our fast-paced culture can leave older people feeling disconnected instead of appreciated.
  • Re-defining who you are and what you do post-retirement- Work gives us a social role and a purpose, and when this finishes we still need to have a structure to feel useful and stay motivated.

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The Craft Café offers a solution; it defies the pre-conceptions of growing older and celebrates creativity and people in later life. The atmosphere is infectious and the place is buzzing. The group are a vibrant and lively bunch of people with a strong sense of camaraderie and inclusiveness. All activities are free and members can choose to partake in the current project or can work independently.

I am constantly impressed by the members’ willingness to try new things – which can be a challenge at any age – but what inspires me most is the kindness and support they show each other. They are not critical or competitive but instead enthusiastic about each other’s talents. Many were new to making art when they first began at the Café. Their last significant encounter was often at school which taught ‘If you cannot draw you are not good!’ But through workshops and perseverance people have learnt skills and found new talents. One member said she is changing her old ‘I can’t do that’ attitude and thinking instead ‘I’m going to give it I try, practising in art media she never imagined she would ever use.DSC_0640

Having this creative space is invaluable as it allows older people to remain independent and express their individual selves, while still feeling part of a group. It also keeps people mentally and physically active. I speak to different members who say they have been able to cut down on their medication for depression and anxiety, and who are reducing the threat of heart disease by attending the workshops and being physical. One member, who had been very isolated for many years and who started attending the Craft Café in his early nineties, commented ‘Coming here brings a twinkle to the eye!’ I see this daily, and I am inspired by members’ willingness to be open to new experiences.

It seems obvious that improving people’s lifestyles will improve their health and general well-being. Quality of life is essential, but in our culture we need to give this idea more credibility and take more action to make it happen. I believe retirement should be playtime for adults and, as the ageing population increases, I hope the Craft Café and others like it will be a growing phenomenon.

Guest Blog: Charlotte Craig

(for more information on Charlotte’s work see here)

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.

4speakers

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.

Trust

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.

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Gill Murray

A decade of making a difference

Earlier this month the findings of the latest census of social enterprise activity in Scotland was published (www.ceis.org.uk). From the many facts and figures presented in the census report it is clear that the number of social enterprises has continued to increase since the 2015 census, reaching a current total of 5600. The positive economic contribution those enterprises make remains considerable. As the census report also highlights, there are social enterprises of all shapes, sizes and forms across Scotland. However, the majority are small-scale ventures. Many are based in rural locations and have been set up to meet the needs of those communities.

If you delve into the story behind the development of many of the social enterprises in Scotland, you will learn about the support and guidance provided by Firstport. This organisation was established in 2007 to help social entrepreneurs turn their ideas into action. Over the past decade Firstport has gone from strength to strength, and I am quite sure the social enterprise scene in Scotland would not be as flourishing and vibrant without the committed work of Firstport’s staff encouraging, energising and guiding dedicated and passionate people to build sustainable organisations to help individuals and communities across the country. As an academic, I am deeply grateful to Firstport for inspiring and supporting some of my students to think about how they can put their knowledge, skills and experience into action to make a difference in their own communities.

Earlier this week I received a copy of Firstport’s report “Learning to start something good”. This was produced to commemorate the first 10 years of Firstport’s operation in Scotland. The brief film accompanying the report is both insightful and inspirational. You can access a copy of both the report and the film via the Firstport website (www.firstport.org.uk). Like the census document, the Firstport report is packed full of facts and figures about what has been achieved over the past decade. The report also looks forward and incudes some clear aims for Firstport’s further development.

Reading both the 2017 census findings and Firstport’s commemorative report this week, I have been struck again by the difficulties associated with providing a comprehensive account of the impact that social enterprises are making across Scotland – the difference being made to the lives of individuals within our towns, cities and rural areas. For many social enterprises recording, measuring and reporting impact is a considerable challenge, particularly during times of limited or diminishing funding sources. Some aspects of the work of social enterprises are easy to count and report in neat charts, graphs and tables, but so much of the real “difference-making work” is much harder to account for and present.

In Project 6 of the CommonHealth Research Programme (Aberdeen Foyer – An Impact Journey) we are wrestling with precisely that recording, measuring and reporting challenge. Working in close collaboration with staff at Aberdeen Foyer, the project team is currently knee-deep in exploring and reviewing a wide array of existing tools and techniques designed to address aspects of impact measurement and/or reporting. In the midst of ploughing through the reviewing and research process, it has been uplifting this week to be reminded, through the Firstport report, that social enterprises across Scotland are truly making a difference, and that organisations like Firstport are enabling and equipping social entrepreneurs to make that difference.

Happy birthday Firstport! Thank you for the difference you have made over the past decade. I, and I am sure many others, look forward to hearing about your journey over the next 10 years!

Professor Heather Fulford

Aberdeen Business School,

Robert Gordon University

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