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!

image

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.

DSC_0384

 

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

Advertisements

You are only as old as you feel!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/67/JuergenHoenscheid-SUP-2012-Mauro.Ladu.jpg/512px-JuergenHoenscheid-SUP-2012-Mauro.Ladu.jpg

 When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens,
And learn to spit.
Edited extracts from Warning, written by Jenny Joseph when she was 29 in 1961 (she’s now in her 80’s)

Hi everyone and welcome to my first ever blog. I have recently joined the CommonHealth team, working on Project 5 – Age Unlimited. I’ll be investigating the health and wellbeing impacts of social enterprises created by the over 50’s for the over 50’s. This has given me the opportunity to read some really interesting studies about aging, health and how we measure what we think of our own aging process.

Do you remember completing the census in 2010? There was a question asking ‘How is your health in general?’ I was surprised to find that most of us say we are in fair to very good health, and this effect holds well into later life – 80% of those aged 85 years and over still state they are in fair to very good health.

Why is this census question important? Because research has found that positive self-perceptions of ageing can be related to a better quality of life. In at least one longitudinal study this positivity has also been indirectly linked to better health and a longer life.

Your Granny knew what she was talking about when she said ‘you are only as old as you feel’ and ‘age is just a number.’ Alongside being positive about the advantages and experience of getting older, feeling young is an excellent way to improve your health and wellbeing. Most adults report feeling younger than they are, and the gap between their actual age and the age they feel widens as they get older. We are all 18 at heart.

One thing that can make us feel older is loneliness. Although loneliness is often mentioned in the same breath as social isolation, are they actually the same thing? It has been argued that researchers can easily measure social isolation by counting how many times you have social contact and whether you live alone amongst other things, but loneliness is more difficult because it is more subjective. However, other researchers disagree and argue that they are actually both subjective and complex, and so both are very difficult to measure. What we do know is loneliness and social isolation are both bad for our health and wellbeing, and that this appears to be consistent across the globe. One study in China found that 78% of older adults in rural areas were moderately or intensely lonely, so it’s not just a UK problem.

In her blog on 17 July, Clemmie mentioned social enterprise’s potential to reduce social isolation and hence improve health and wellbeing. My project intends to investigate this and other impacts that our selected social enterprises have on those who develop, work, volunteer for or access them.

The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (we don’t have a Scottish equivalent yet) found that social, civil and cultural engagement increases when people retire but decreases when people became frail and/or when people lose access to transportation (perhaps through failing eyesight forcing them to give up driving, for example). Will we find this in our study? Or will social enterprises be effective at providing solutions to allow the frail and those without transport to re-engage?

I will always wonder about the design fault in humans as we age that means everything stiffens up on the inside but skin goes loose and baggy on the outside. Regardless of saggy skin or shades of grey in your hair, the important thing is if you still feel like you are 18 on the inside, you are improving your health and wellbeing.

So act your age? No thanks!

 

History with present-tense value: A historians perspective on interdisciplinary research

Just like my colleagues I’ve been doing my bit at conference season over the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d share my reflections on some interesting conversations I’ve been having on my travels. A lot of this chat has revolved around the issue of interdisciplinarity, and what it means for historical research.

Charles Rennie MacKintosh understood the value of an alternative perspective
Charles Rennie MacKintosh understood the value of an alternative perspective

Interdisciplinarity can mean something as innocuous as sharing knowledge across the boundaries of academic disciplines, or as potentially radical as using this shared knowledge to forge a whole new academic discipline. Like research ‘impact’ and the ‘REF’, interdisciplinary working can feel like something that is being imposed on academics from above, while already busy work-schedules allow only a tokenistic engagement with the interdisciplinary research process. There has been many an article discussing concerns and opportunities surrounding interdisciplinarity in Times Higher over the years.

Historians are often written into interdisciplinary research bids because having someone to provide the ‘long view’ of the research topic adds gravitas. Also certain skills in archival research or recording oral histories are relatively specialist and sought after. However, there are very real concerns to consider, such as how interdisciplinary research may affect the integrity of your work? Moreover, if historians are really going to engage with interdisciplinarity how can understanding of the past be meaningfully integrated with data collected from present-centred disciplines?

For many of the historians I’ve been talking to there is an appeal in working with researchers from other disciplines so that their historical research becomes relevant for the present day. There is a desire among some historians for their work to have a real present-tense value. Of course some historians do manage this without engaging with interdisciplinarity, by readdressing popular myths surrounding an event or personality, or through public engagement with schools, museums etc. But if you are interdisciplinary inclined here’s my top three tips for interdisciplinary working that I’ve picked up from my time with health economists, social scientists and anthropologists:

  1. Structure: There is no one-size fits all answer as to how an historical perspective can add value to an interdisciplinary research project. It may be through data collection -unearthing new materials from an overlooked archive. It may be how data is interpreted in the analysis stage of the project. It may be that a historian’s ability to tell a story with their research means they are most valuable when thinking about research dissemination. Therefore, it’s important to share work with your colleagues at every stage of the research process, invite them into the archive, give a ten minute work-in-progress paper at an informal team meeting. Build these meetings and opportunities for listening and learning into the research time-table.
  1. Tools: Be open to learning new ways of data collection and storage, especially if this means they are more easily shared with your colleagues. I’ve been getting to grips with NVIVO, since it’s the software that my colleagues use, and too my surprise it’s worked well and I’ve even found other historians using it too!
  1. Language: A term that you may use fairly casually in your own discipline can become a point of contention when you are talking to someone from another background for whom it’s meaning and implications are very different. Working outside your discipline can be a great exercise in simplifying the language you use and becoming more adept at explaining key concepts in your discipline. It’s imperative to encourage a practice of learning and discussion from the start, to avoid heated discussions further down the line!