This week SEL held its first Transitions training for public sector staff to learn more about setting their service up as a social enterprise. Hot on the heels of our Transitions document launched three weeks ago this might be the first form of training of its kind and as such I really wanted to know how it went. Our Matt Jarratt put the program together and carried out the training on Wednesday and so I have asked him to tell us all about it her on my blog. So Matt whenever you're ready....
"Social enterprise used to be accused (by those who knew little about it) of being harmless, ‘all things to all people’ and a fluffy sideline to the real business of running business and public services. Not anymore. Now it’s subject to the full glare of public scrutiny as our movement is asked to step up and deliver arguably the most radical reforms to public services since 1948.
However whilst the ideas around public services being re-established as social enterprises are bold and well stated, what’s been lacking, in our eyes, is a service which really gets into the nuts and bolts of how and why a social enterprise emerging from the public sector actually works.
What are the implications for the strategy and management of the service? Does it really create efficiencies? How does a social enterprise model of delivery impact staff, communities, other services within the council and, most importantly the people who use the service? How can the chutzpah and entrepreneurialism of the social enterprise movement be developed and harnessed through what will almost always be a convoluted, sometimes controversial development process?
To address this, SEL has developed Transitions, a training package for local authorities exploring these issues in detail, and on Wednesday we delivered it for the first time.
Aimed at local authority workers (of all levels), it’s an intensive introduction to social enterprise – it includes detailed policy context, the attributes of the entrepreneur, the challenges associated with the approach, and (the bulk of the course), a step by step guide to establishing a social enterprise business out of a public service department.
As the author of the training (as well as the accompanying Transitions guide, launched last month), I must admit I was very relieved that the 11 senior local authority managers who came appeared to find the session valuable. Its 6 ½ hours of hefty, at times challenging material. Creating a new business out of a local authority department requires the energy and spirit to take on an often strong headwind of legislation and early opposition; a clear eyed focus on the impact of the move on staff and service users; the confidence to take independent advice; the rigour to understand and develop the market and the vision to develop an outstanding service. We cover all these things, it’s fun and exciting to deliver, but not necessarily comfortable.
But that seems to me to be the point – social enterprise isn’t comfortable. The most successful social enterprises are run by people who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, who set a clear vision and deliver on it, and who exploit the market in order to deliver on sometimes extraordinarily challenging social aims.
Social enterprise isn’t right for every public department or individual, and we are careful in the training to emphasise that we’re not dogmatically attached to social enterprise for its own sake. What we are attached to is the principle that decisions on this should be taken on merit and projected outcome (following careful research and consultation), not on ideology or principle.
After a few necessary tweaks to the structure, SEL is now going to deliver Transitions to however many local authorities and local authority workers are keen to receive it. Exciting times."