Friday, April 13, 2018

defining success in enterprise support means not measuring what you think you should

We need a way to check that everything we spend money on, or invest our time in, has worked - otherwise, how do we know if it was the right thing to do? how can we learn from the experience otherwise? and if we don't have some type of indicators of success, how can we be accountable to the people whose money we've spent doing it?

Some readers of my blog will be aware that I have a slightly unusual business model as a freelancer, in that I always try and find, and work though, funded programmes when supporting clients - I have an idea that as well as making my work more transparent and accountable, I'm also helping someone else 'tick their boxes' with regards to helping them spend their budgets where it might be of most benefit.
But within any funded support for enterprises or charities, there's an element of reporting against 'indicators of success': how many jobs were created, how much more turnover does the organisation now generate, what new products or services have been introduced to the marketplace, and such like.
However, I've always had a concern that having such reporting measures, while useful for the reasons I've referred to above, risks the supported organisation starting to focus on doing the wrong things.

Case in point: in recent years, there has been a rise in interest in encouraging more charities and social enterprises to take up the option of 'social investment' (loans and debt) to help them grow and do more good in the world. This has been through programmes offering funded consultancy, workshops and training, and such like. And having been involved in supporting the delivery of several of these, the reporting of any group who accessed support through it has invariably focused on how much of an 'investment' the organisation has now secured.
But the problem with this focused approach to reporting on the success of the support is that its prejudiced and biased - my experiences (and that of many others) through programmes like these, is that many organisations receiving subsequently support find that their business model will never be able to generate the financial returns, nor satisfy the diligence requirements, of investors, however good the support they receive has been.
So they, and their funded supporters, face a quandary: 'fudge' the reporting to suggest that a loan deal is imminent (but never quite materialises), or be honest, and risk the funder asking for their money spent on the support back, with it apparently having failed to achieve what they wanted it to.

And it's a pattern I've seen in other funded business support programmes in other sector over the years as well, with private businesses in initiatives aimed at stimulating job creation and economic growth.

So does this mean that funded enterprise support will never achieve its aims, or that we can never trust what these funders share as the collated impact of their programmes, in many of the reporting of it's activities being 'less than completely transparent'?

I'm inclined to suggest that there's a third option we have, and it's one which I'm encouraged to see some providers of such funded enterprise support starting to take: funders of these programmes starting to openly recognise that the way they measure and consider the success of their intervention should consider a wider range of outcomes, rather than a simple binary measure as has been traditionally used. 
And a leading example of this is the Social Investment Business, whose reflections on 5 years of programmes supporting social enterprise access social investment is identifying this:

"Success should not be solely defined by growth or whether investment is raised. 
Instead, improving resilience should be the primary aim."

So perhaps we can all take encouragement from this and have a little more courage in future when reflecting on the benefits that come from engaging with offers of business support and how we report this, and be open to the good things that happen when we do?