Thursday, November 21, 2019

reporting social impact - 150 years in, and 8,000 to go...

If you're getting involved with starting to report social value/impact, and find yourself confused about all the different models, standards, bodies, and approaches, then don't panic - you're right where you should expect to be!

Preparing 'social accounts' is often likened to the preparation of a set of financial accounts - tracking what resources have been used, and what's changed (good or bad) at the end of a period.

However - as a species, we've been collectively agreeing how to 'do' financial accounts for about 8 millennia (the earliest reference I can find dates back to about 8,000BC in ancient Sumeria...). But we've only really been doing 'social' accounts for about 150 (the earliest references I'm aware of are co-operative societies in the mid nineteen century sharing how they were impacting on their members and communities).

So if we've been working on agreeing consistent standards and approaches for financial accounts for this long, why is there the sense of urgency and panic to nail the way in which we report the social value and impact alongside the financial stuff?

And just to add to the complication, financial accounting had only a few key audiences who were interested that it was gotten 'right' (investors, regulators, government), whereas social value and impact has far wider groups that it needs to satisfy (providers, commissioners, communities, employees, beneficiaries, customers, grant making bodies, policy makers, and so on and so on...)

So isn't it about time we stopped panicking that we've not yet reached a global consensus on the measures we should all be using when we talk about our value and impact..?

Monday, November 11, 2019

the problems with prioritising social value maybe aren't that straightforward...

Having worked in the 'social value' arena for about 20 years now in guises ranging from developing reporting toolkits for national sector bodies, supporting national programmes from the likes of nef and Social Investment Business, and delivering masterclasses with commissioners and individual groups, there seems to remain a widespread frustration as to why more charities, social enterprises, businesses, and others simply aren't getting on with just (fukcing) doing it...

And I have an idea (well, several in fact) as to why despite the rhetoric and good intentions, it's proving so hard for so many to start with even the first steps of starting to think about how they capture and report the impact they're already making, let alone start to grow it to benefit more people and communities in need:

1) most groups and businesses face a daily trade-off between investing in systems and processes, and being able to 'keep the lights on' - until we can find better ways of presenting the imperative of social value reporting in the context of their current operating pressures and immediate consequences, then it'll always be being put off to the next month...

2) despite social value now being a compliance thing for charities, companies, and even societies (public benefit reporting requirements, legal responsibilities of company directors, and such like), there's little by way of enforcement by these respective regulatory bodies - so if there's no stick, then what's the motivation..?

3) the introduction of the social value act in 2012 was going to herald a new era of social value in public procurement - except it's not that obvious or widespread yet (with most contracts only giving a 5% weighing to social value)

4) we see grant making trusts and bodies seemingly at odds with each other in how they're prioritising social value and impact, with some being so vague as to leave the applying groups more confused, and others contradicting each other, so is it any wonder that charities applying to them are focusing more on outputs and budgets than outcomes..?

5) and the 'professionalisation' of reporting our social value (despite it originating within the social enterprise sector) is starting to see our own people becoming disenfranchised and demotivated when they're asked to start to report and manage it, according to recent research papers...

So is it any wonder why despite the efforts of nationally funded programmes, sector bodies, and rhetoric of others, that 2 decades in, we're still seeing so many groups struggling to begin to even engage with social value, let alone report, manage, and develop it..?

Maybe we need to create more carrots to incentivise and nudge behaviours and thinking, rather than relying on an approach of 'tell people why it's so important, and they're bound to come round...' (after all - how many of us actually manage our recommended '5-a-day' of fruit and vegetables, or religiously floss after every meal, despite knowing how important both are...?)

Monday, October 21, 2019

why I don't go to awards ceremonies (despite winning them!)

I seem to be developing a reputation for winning awards (and as with most of my other reputations, is not something I purposefully set out to achieve...); but thought it might be time to reveal why I'm usually pictured in my office with all the paperweights and wall hangings that I seem to be amassing, rather than being suited up at official awards ceremonies:

  1. they're usually in London or major cities that aren't that easy for me to get to (I live in the Pennines where the quality of views, walking, and beer are offset by years of under-investment in public transport links...)
  2. Despite all my bravado and pomp, I think that my factory default setting is far more introvert than extrovert, so if it's all the same, you can post me the paperweight and I'll stay at home to watch TV with my girlfriend and a glass of wine;
  3. But perhaps most importantly, not going in person creates an opportunity for me to be able to help other people get a 'leg up' as they're starting their careers and adventures - at the IOEE awards where I was named 'member of the year', I orchestrated it so Harsha Patel would be 'me' at the House of Commons to accept the accolade on my behalf: she was in the process of founding Doing Social at the time, so this meant she had opportunity to network with people and agencies more quickly and easily than she might have otherwise, meaning she could get her new venture 'out there' more powerfully than she might have otherwise. (She also looked better in a dress than I could ever hope to when on the podium giving the acceptance speech...)

So that's the reasoning behind why, in my business model, I seem to be once again going against conventional wisdom that says I should be revelling the in the validation that having awards bestowed on me offers..,

Friday, October 11, 2019

why ducks are better than dolphins

Anyone familiar with the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will know that since time immemorial, it's been dolphins (not us) who are the most intelligent life form on our planet.

But I've started to wonder recently if they've only gotten this position thanks to some crafty PR on the part of the late Douglas Adams, and it's actually the ducks that are the ones we should all be looking to... 

- It's ducks who are favoured by surrealists

- It's ducks who helped me convey to a national festival my identity as being NOT that of a social enterprise/entrepreneur

- It's ducks who avoided becoming weaponised in warfare (unlike their porpoise counterparts)

- and it's ducks who can best help us get fully to grips with themes of equality and diversity... 

But is there a hidden moral or meaning in this seemingly random and off-beat post... well, I think there is, and I think it's this - 
in the words of Public Enemy, "don't believe the hype": just because something seems insignificant and commonplace doesn't mean it doesn't have the potential to usurp the leading authorities on any given matter.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

how the CIC Regulator protects people's trust in social enterprises by not telling anyone anything about the complaints or concerns we make to them...

If the title of this post sounds counter-intuitive, that's because I'm still struggling to reconcile the inspiration for it: a statement by the CIC Regulator in their latest annual report about how they strive to help protect the CIC brand:

"our approach is to neither confirm nor deny whether an investigation is taking protect the integrity of the CIC." (p.12)

and if you follow this through to the CIC Regulator's published guidance on making complaints about CICs, you'll find that if you do raise a concern, you'll find that this opaqueness goes ever further in that they won't "publish or tell the complainant about the outcome." (p4)

This seems to be a little odd at best for a number of reasons:
1) all other regulators are usually transparent about investigations they opened and reached a decision on (unless there are over-riding legal reasons or concerns);

2) a 'back of the envelope' study I did into CIC complaints a while ago found that we, the general public, were increasingly raising concerns about them to the Regulator, year on year - and...

3) most complaints received by the Regulator relate to a CICs governance, then why not share some of the details of these with us all, so we can better structure and manage CICs to avoid common pitfalls and mistakes in better protecting the shared brand and respective integrity of the wider CIC community..?

Worryingly, the CIC Regulator also reveals in this latest annual report, that for the first time since CICs were introduced (14 years ago) they've actually acted on a complaint to investigate the affairs of a CIC. (Although they don't disclose any details of this, so we can't learn from other's mistakes in strengthening our own respective understandings and practices).

There's a relationship between trustworthiness and transparency, and if the CIC Regulator isn't being transparent about how they're handling the concerns people are raising about individual CICs, then there's a limit to how far we'll not only be able to feel we can trust them to protect the reputation of the social enterprises they're responsible for, but also how much faith individual CICs will have in them to act with any integrity themselves as their regulator.

All of this isn't meant as another CIC-bashing post (goodness knows, I seem to make enough of those already!), but part of my questioning aloud about some of the wider practices in the social enterprise sector that more of us should surely be aware of and asking about, if we're to make sure that as a movement, we're as credible and impact-ful as we have the potential to be.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

the tension of being British and winning business awards

Anyone who's snooped around my website, or followed some of my social media feeds, will likely have noticed that from time to time I'm fortunate to be recognised through receiving various national and international awards.

As a sole trader, such recognition is really valued: I don't have a line manager, team of colleagues, or regular gang of work mates whom I go out after work with that would otherwise help reassure me in those moments where I doubt myself, and wonder if I really am as good as I seem to be (hint: impostor syndrome is much more common amongst freelancers than people like to publicly admit). So such validations are genuinely welcome, and hopefully also an encouragement to other fellow freelancers and self-employed, that we really can achieve great things despite sometimes feeling like a flea when compared to the likes of larger firms and companies.

But recently I've started to notice that there seems to be something 'a bit British' about such business awards: whenever I learn I've been shortlisted for something, I'm keen to share that news as encouragement to others (and also reassurance to clients that they've commissioned the right consultant!). And if I'm fortunate enough to impress the judging panels sufficiently for them to put my name on the trophy, there's a similar post (although not always traditionally posed...) to share my excitement. And what I'm starting to notice is that there seems to be more interest and 'well done' messages when I share news of nominations and short-listings, than there is if I get to subsequently add another 'paperweight' to the trophy cabinet.

And I'm wondering if this is a reflection of our culture as Brits - try hard, strive to succeed, always root for the underdog (in this case, the sole trader who's up again international consultancy firms), remember it's more important to take part than to win, and don't get too cocky... 
But is that a bad thing? After all, it's complacency that is usually at the root of businesses that start to struggle and fail, and that's something I'm very keen to avoid (even though I've managed to remain self-employed for nearly 15 years now, I still fret about being able to find the next paying client or that my invoices will be able to be paid...)

So maybe we should focus more of the celebrations not on the winning of awards, but on those who get nominated and shortlisted (which is often no mean feat to achieve in itself). 
As for me? I'll still keep sharing news of awards nominations and additions to the mantelpiece, but won't be upset if you decide not to comment or like the posts I make when I share the news of it as encouragement to others.

Monday, July 1, 2019

why do we keep insisting on keeping social and 'regular' entrepreneurs apart, when both have the same sh!t to deal with..?

In my experience of supporting various start-up programmes throughout the UK over the last 20 years, and having walked alongside many for part of their journey, most entrepreneurs don't call themselves that. 
They're simply people trying to make a go of an idea to either help them fix a problem they see in their community or help them get a bit more financial security for themselves (usually both).

So I'm increasingly frustrated when I keep seeing national sector bodies re-enforcing a narrative that social and non-social entrepreneurs need special treatment that somehow doesn't seem to apply to the other:

It therefore seems that if you identify as social or not as an entrepreneur, you're probably going to be sharing the same needs, concerns, and preferences for how you access the support you want - and this isn't anything new either: cross-sector research I did into social enterprises, charities, and private businesses all the way back in 2003 (an era of dial-up internet!) found that regardless of which sector people identified as being part of, they all had the same development needs and shared preferences for how they accessed learning and training.

And to my mind that suggests that we're continuing to miss a trick in amplifying the impact that entrepreneurs could be making on society's problems, and the wider economy - why are we creating this artificial segregation of entrepreneurs based on their founding motivations, when the support they need is the same.  And surely by learning and growing together they might better encourage, inspire, challenge, and ultimately "be" more than the sum of their respective camps..?

In the enterprise programmes I've been fortunate to have been able to manage and lead over the years, I've always sought to encourage such a 'mixing it up' philosophy, and although none were ever evaluated on the grounds of it being mixed-sector entrepreneurs, no-one in them seemed to have any problem in undertaking their journey as an entrepreneur with the others who had differing visions or motivations to their own.

So when we will we start to see (social) enterprise support agents admit that these divisions between sectors aren't really that valid or justifiable, and in doing so, be able to be more inclusive in releasing support into our wider communities and economies for the benefit of all..?