Reflections on our Knowledge Exchange Forum: Inverness

Thursday 5th May might have been a significant date in the calendar for Scottish politics, but more importantly it was also the date of our Knowledge Exchange Forum in Inverness. The event invited an audience of social enterprise practitioners, academic researchers and associated organisations to share their thoughts and ideas of social enterprise and its links to health and wellbeing.

The forum included fantastic presentations from 3 local social enterprises; Calman Trust, Highland Blindcraft and Eden Court; alongside presentations from NHS Highland and the Highland Council. The event also allowed us the opportunity to discuss in groups what we mean by health and wellbeing, how our work might affect the lives of others, and how this might be measureable, leading to some thought provoking insights! As there were so many interesting points raised we have asked our CommonHealth team to highlight just a few……

A massive thank you to everyone who attended and shared their views, and a special mention to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for their support and input!

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Working as a social enterprise

The presentations from Calman Trust, Eden Court, and Highland Blindcraft reflected the diverse ways in which social enterprise has become both a structure -around which you can build an organisation- and a tool -which third sector organisations can make use of to fulfil their social missions. For example Calman Trust operates the social enterprise Ness Soap and Cafe Artysans; Eden Court is a publically funded arts organisation that uses elements of social enterprise in its practice; Highland Blindcraft has existed in one form or another for 140 years. Currently it operates as a charity limited by guarantee and has been variously labelled a social enterprise, and a supportive business.

People and organisations who want to create social change and generate social value don’t worry too much about what they’re called. For many organisations, if ‘social enterprise’ is a title which might bring in funding to help their users, then they’ll happily slap ‘social enterprise’ stickers on everything. But equally, if the funding flavour of the month is ‘social business’ or ‘charity’, then that’s the name they’ll use. Participants’ commitment to their social purpose was prioritised over the label used to describe their work.

This raises questions for academics like us at Commonhealth, and suggests that we should perhaps think of social enterprise as a set of processes that organisations use, rather than a group of organisations that share common characteristics. In turn this leads to further questions for policy makers and the support that should be in place for social enterprise.

For those of you interested in this discussion you may be interested in Simon Teasdale’s upcoming professional lecture: What’s in a name?

Addressing vulnerability and providing support

Several of the discussions throughout the day picked up on concerns that practitioners were witnessing increased levels of vulnerability, especially in connection to young people and youth unemployment. In this context the imperative to balance the ‘business’ elements of a social enterprise with its social purpose, becomes an ever more delicate balancing act; and for some this was likely to become a central challenge for the sector in coming years. Social enterprises therefore felt that while they could not hope to solve all the problems they faced, they could help to make young people more resilient and able to cope with the challenges they faced in the future.

When discussing support and vulnerability, often what can be neglected are the effects that social enterprise activity might have on its founders, board members and managers. When individuals volunteer their time and energy into creating and building their social enterprise we can forget to consider the impact that this might have on their personal and family life, and the sacrifices that they have to make. This can be in terms of personal finance, lack of time spent with loved ones and having to work long and anti-social hours to make things work. Yet support for such groups can be scarce.

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Amazing illustrations by Sarah Ahmad

From pathways to evidence

Social enterprises frequently need to prove (or attempt to) the outcomes of their work. Practitioners from the numerous organisations in attendance could relate to us the pathways that individuals had taken through their organisations, but often felt that these stories alone were not taken seriously as evidence of their impact on health and wellbeing.

Often the most small and subtle changes were felt to be the most powerful. In environments where social enterprise practitioners are working every day, the most satisfying aspects might be simply putting a smile on a young person’s face. Yet, not only is it difficult to measure the value of a smile, it may not be what funders are interested in anyway. There are ways of measuring impact (e.g. SROI or Social Audit) which may give a snapshot of the social value of a social enterprise. However, such measurement can be tough when funders want hard numbers not stories, or can’t think about long-term outcomes beyond the funding period.

Moreover, what was commonly found was that measures do not always account for major differences in social enterprise type and scale. For example, a community centre might benefit 1,500 community members, yet a childcare service might only benefit 5; and each activity impacts to a variety of different levels. Therefore, how can measures be truly representative of how people are individually affected?

Taking all of these insights into consideration we have a lot to keep us busy until the next event! 

Gillian Murray, Bobby Macaulay, Danielle Kelly, Clementine Hill-O’Connor, Fiona Henderson, Steve Rolfe

Knowledge Exchange Forum: Social Health Farago!

 

On Monday the CommonHealth team relocated to Dundee for our latest Knowledge Exchange Forum. An invited audience of 40 people associated in different ways with social enterprises in Scotland listened as 6 social enterprises briefly described their work. The attendees then split into several smaller groups and discussed the links between social enterprise and health, leading to some interesting debates and so many insights we could not fit them all into one blog! So here’s a summary of what we learned about health and social enterprise from listening, with more to follow next week on social enterprise structure and support…

Thank you to everyone who attended and shared their views!

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There are countless ways in which social enterprises can impact on health

The groups suggested that social enterprise can have an impact on different levels of wellbeing, including safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization, for one group these impacts being most akin to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Other specific examples of social enterprises’ impact on health discussed by the groups presented us with some interesting avenues for future research. For example, arts based social enterprises were recognised within the groups for the ways in which they can decrease an individual’s stress. One group attributed this to the concentration required to engage creatively and suggested this captures the essence of mindfulness, i.e. thinking only in the present, specifically and immersively about the task in hand. Arts-based social enterprises can also be used as an outlet for emotion through various creative and visual mediums.

In other examples, some groups agreed formal employment is an important vehicle to not only improving health but also to prevent reductions in wellbeing, especially when there is payment of the living wage and sustainable security of employment is assured. Dundee has had a tumultuous job market in recent history when the famed prosperity of its ‘jam, Jute and journalism’ era came to an end, and groups touched on this and the region’s work to create a brighter economic future. For those excluded or distanced from the job market at the moment, volunteering was seen as potentially beneficial assuming it didn’t lead to burn-out or a loss of benefits. (We will be discussing this theme further in some of our up-coming blogs!)

Relationships are important when dealing with those with complex support needs

A recurring point of discussion in the KEF was the creation of social enterprises to address the limited care and support individuals received from institutions, particularly the local authority and the NHS. One of the tables expressed a desire for health and social services to be able to provide longer-term care and to develop relationships with people so that they could work through their complex needs. This was expressed in different ways amongst most groups, and by those working in local authorities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations. Practitioners on the ground know that good health doesn’t begin and end with addressing individual conditions, and are often frustrated when the work they begin with people gets cut short because they fall outside a particular scheme or funding stream. For some practitioners this frustration had become so acute that they had started their own initiatives in order to better address the needs of the individuals, families and the communities they work with. Making good use of this expertise and energy is a central challenge for health and social care in future.

Dundee and Tayside brought us marmalade, Desperate Dan and an exceptionally high level of female employment in the Jute industry before women won the right to vote. The KEF showed us that the region’s communities still continue to innovate and evolve.

Next week we will be continuing the discussion with another overview of what we learned, looking specifically at the strength and flexibility of social enterprise and how they can be best supported.

Bobby Macaulay, Clementine Hill O’Connor, Danielle Kelly, Fiona Henderson, Gill Murray

Take only notes….leave only memories

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‘Just being there for someone can sometimes bring hope when all seems hopeless’ (Dave G Llewellyn)

The Growth at the Edge project will be measuring the impact that social enterprises have on health and wellbeing in rural communities. In designing a methodology I am becoming increasingly aware of the effect that ‘just being there’ will have on participant’s wellbeing, particularly in areas where community members may have little contact with external practitioners, such as researchers. This led me to ponder further about how open people might be to experiences that may affect their health and wellbeing, and their perceptions of their environment and relationships around them. What kinds of emotional tendencies do people have? What if someone’s life is filled with pessimism and scepticism? But mostly, to what extent can a very small encounter influence someone’s feelings of wellbeing?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that “wellbeing exists in two dimensions, subjective and objective. It comprises an individual’s experience of their life as well as a comparison of life circumstances with social norms and values”. The subjective side of wellbeing relates to how people perceive the quality of their lives; their emotional judgements towards happiness and how content they are with specific areas of their lives. Antonovsky (1967) expressed this with ‘Sense of Coherence’ theory, which describes how feelings of health and wellbeing are underpinned by three main components. Firstly, having a comprehension that things happen in an orderly fashion and life events are predictable; secondly, that life is manageable and you have the support and resources to take care of things; and thirdly, a belief that things are meaningful and worthwhile, giving you a sense of purpose.

My project will be adopting a participatory action research (PAR) approach embedding the principles of design thinking to measure the health and wellbeing impacts of social enterprises. Potentially, by taking part in social enterprise activities, individuals and communities may feel empowered and less socially isolated. Communities may gain collective and individual responsibilities, and work in collaboration with stakeholders to develop and engage in something socially beneficial; the health and wellbeing effects of which could be increased physical, mental and emotional health. I can only hypothesise at this stage.

Nevertheless, in using participatory action research to measure the effects of social enterprise I will be working alongside individuals and communities to co-produce research methods and will allow them to guide the research topics. Individuals will be given the resources and support to engage in issues that are important in their lives; they will be given a voice and will become important stakeholders in the future of their social enterprise. PAR will allow participants to take part in meaningful practices such as workshops, interviews and focus groups, giving them a sense of purpose in the research arena. PAR methods could be as big as organising a community wide photography project, or as small as visiting an elderly community member for a cup of tea. I may form friendships and bonds with participants, much like Clemmie has highlighted in her previous blog https://commonhealthresearch.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/objective-or-subjective/. The very nature of PAR is that it goes straight to the heart of community engagement, much like social enterprises themselves.

So going back my original question- to what extent can a very small encounter influence someone’s feelings of wellbeing? What if the processes involved in participatory action research has more of an effect on individual’s wellbeing than the actual social enterprise itself? How do we unpick this, and should we unpick this?

The answers to this may be as simple as explicitly stating what I am aiming to measure from the outset, and asking participants to only comment on the social enterprise. Yet one cannot foresee the impact the presence of the researcher may have on the social enterprise itself.

The web continues to weave.