Tag Archives: social accounting and audit

The importance of ownership in understanding social enterprise

I want to destroy ownership in order that possession and enjoyment may be raised to the highest point in every section of the community.
George Bernard Shaw

Over the years there has been a considerable amount of time and energy spent on discussing social enterprise – what it is, what it could be, what impact it has.  At times this has been quite a creative and stimulating experience, while at other times it has been negative and tiresome.

In all these discussions, I believe, not enough emphasis has been laid on ownership.  Who owns these social enterprises and are they accountable not only to themselves but also to the wider public?  Accountability is going to become more and more important for social enterprises as they take on public and community sector contracts and have to account for their actions to a variety of different stakeholders.

With private corporations, ownership is often a slippery beast.  The ownership of the ‘means of production’ can be difficult to determine as it is, at times, not fully declared – but is often the key to understanding why an organisation acts in the way it does.

Andy Wightman in his recent research and writings illustrates this in the following paragraph which refers to land specifically, but also can be extended to property and the ‘means of production’:

Land is about power.  It is about how power is derived, defined, distributed and exercised.  It always has been and it still is thanks to a legal system that has historically been constructed and adapted to protect the interests of private property.  ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers’ by Andy Wightman

Guy Shrubsole in his recent book, Who Owns England, writes that less than one per cent of the population owns about half of England and Wales.  This cannot be right if we are trying to create a fairer more equal society.

Faced with these glaring inequalities, perhaps the only way to fully understand them is to go back into history and trace the threads that lead us to where we are now.  Thus, indulge my historical and simplistic foraging…

Before capitalism, there was a feudal system in the UK where a reigning monarch could grant whole tracts of land along with a title as a reward to the aristocracy for some form of favour.  This ownership of land meant money could be made and inequality could persist – land being the primary source of wealth.

At the time of the British Empire, European imperialists conquered foreign lands and introduced a form of ownership applying European laws – in effect taking control of whole areas through the ownership of land.  As an aside, many tribes in Africa could not get their heads around the ownership of land as it was a concept that challenged their existing value system – land to grow crops, air to breathe, panoramic beauty where all things that existed for all the people and, prior to colonisation, could not be owned in our sense of the word.

In Victorian times ownership and property became all-important causing increased social and economic inequality as ownership of property would be passed on within families.  In fact, those not owning property were excluded from voting, which reinforces Wightman’s comments cited above.

In the mid-19th century, the co-operative movement emerged as a way that goods and services could be produced for the benefit of the workers and the wider community, not just the factory owners.  Workers co-operatives were created so that they themselves owned the means of production.

In the last two centuries, many voluntary organisations and charities adopted a form of ‘trust’ where ownership was not held by an individual or indeed a group of people.  Rather, those organisations were run and managed by ‘stewards’ operating in the best interests of the organisation to provide maximum benefit to beneficiaries.  A similar structure was adopted by many housing associations.

In the 1970s, Community Co-operatives were established in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland responding to negative economic factors – such as depopulation, dwindling services and a lack of employment opportunities. This model was largely copied by Community Businesses – functioning business enterprises that were owned and controlled by local people for the benefit of those living in local communities.  In these cases, ownership of the business was held by the ‘community’ and not by individuals.

This now brings us to the current situation with social enterprises.  They are not public sector organisations, nor are they part of the private sector where individuals own organisations or companies.  Social enterprises sit somewhere between these two much larger sectors – and this, I would argue, is why ownership of a social enterprise is key to our overall understanding of what is and what is not a social enterprise.

Yvon Poirier, a French-Canadian pioneer within the social economy, explains the origins of the term ‘social enterprise’ stating that its meaning originally…

relates exclusively to the type of ownership. By ‘social’, one means that the ownership is by humans (persons) and not by shareholders
Social Economy and Related Concepts Paper, 2012

He then goes on to explain that in the 1990s the term ‘social enterprise’ – particularly in the English-speaking world, took on a totally different meaning. The term ‘social’ in recent times has come to mean the purpose or sector of activity and not the ownership of the enterprise. 

This shift in meaning is significant as the end result of social enterprise activity has become more important than the type of organisation they are.  This has led to current thinking which stresses the dominance of social impact over how that impact is delivered and crucially linked to this, the ownership of the organisation.

In trying to understand the creation and evolution of social enterprise, we have become too bogged down in what a social enterprise does and what impact it claims. We are guilty of overlooking the issue of ownership and this is a situation I feel needs addressing.

In response to the ownership of a social enterprise, some activists have stressed the need for an ‘asset lock’.  This ensures that individuals do not, and will not, benefit directly from their involvement in the enterprise.  In a way, this skirts around the central issue which is about who owns the enterprise – indeed, who owns and thus controls, the means of production.  Ownership, in my view, should be more central to our understanding.

Many organisations that claim to be social enterprises are up-front about their social impact credentials, hoping that no-one will look too closely at the ownership of their enterprise. Of course, those private sector businesses with strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) statements should be applauded – particularly if they genuinely report on what social benefits they provide and do not only use it as a marketing tool.

However, praising these private businesses for their CSR reporting does not qualify them as a ‘social enterprise’.  In my view, a social or community enterprise is about collective ownership maximising benefit to a wider society.

When thinking about social enterprises, the first questions to ask are, who owns it and what is the ownership structure.  This will help in understanding where that organisation is coming from and why it is acting in that particular way.  The key issue around ownership is whether or not the social enterprise is acting in a way that maximises social or community benefit, or is acting solely in the interest of the owners.

Collective ownership operating on behalf of a wider community ensuring future sustainability to benefit society has to be preferred to privately owned businesses masquerading as social enterprises.

In fact, I would go further.  I believe that all organisations that have a central social or community purpose should keep regular and transparent social accounts.  These ‘accounts’ should affirm the key things about the organisation, including ownership, and at the same time provide an indication of the social and community impact backed up by evidence.

And going even further, I believe that in order to give social reports integrity, they should be subject to an independent audit.  For information on a practical way forward, see www.socialauditnetwork.org.

You will have noticed the George Bernard Shaw quote at the start of this blog.  He used the word ‘destroy’ which indicates fairly drastic action.  What he is arguing for is the destruction of ‘private ownership’ as opposed to ‘collective’ or ‘communal ownership’ so that owning things and living contented lives is not in the hands of the few for their own purposes but is shared by the many for everyone’s benefit.

Alan Kay, April 2019

Alan was one of the original founders of the Social Audit Network (SAN) which encourages social and community organisations to keep regular social accounts and have them independently audited – www.socialauditnetwork.org.
Alan is retired but during his working life, he had more than 35 years of experience in community development and social enterprise sector in the UK and overseas. Alan’s background was in overseas development. Since returning to Scotland in 1988 he mainly worked with community-owned enterprises and social enterprises.  He remains loosely attached to Glasgow Caledonian University as a Senior Visiting Fellow of the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health.
Email: alan.kay20@gmail.com or alan.kay@gcu.ac.uk

 

 

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Developing Devolution with Social Accounting & Audit

I believe that Social Accounting and Audit (SAA) can be a framework for accountability and reporting, which, if used to support public procurement, will enable devolution. Despite the current move towards greater control of purchasing by central government in Westminster, SAA can be a way to make devolution work.

Devolution is commonly understood to be the transfer of functions previously exercised by ministers and the national parliament to a subordinate elected body on a geographical basis.

In Greater Manchester (GM), we have been leading the way. Budgets for health and social care, planning and housing, business support and low carbon technologies have been entrusted to sub-regional level by Government.

Furthermore, ‘social value’ is now enshrined in GM-wide Procurement Policy, and the need to maximise spending power for the benefit of local people – to achieve a social, environmental and economic impact – is recognised as a major way to ‘sweat’ public, private and third sector investment for the common good.

Over 10 years ago, at the New Local Government conference, David Milliband announced, ‘at the local level we need a stronger framework of opportunity and responsibility …. – in fact a double devolution, not just to the Town Hall but beyond, to neighbourhoods and individual citizens’.

The Office of the Third Sector (now Civil Society) was created and local authorities were encouraged to devolve the delivery of local services to local people.

But it didn’t quite happen like that…

What we have in GM isn’t a ‘double devolution’, but it is one where the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector has a strong voice. Words like ‘co-production’, ‘co-design’, ‘asset based approaches’ and ‘reform’ are used to indicate an evolving sense of, ‘we are all in it together’. The delivery isn’t yet devolved to local people.

At the heart of GM devolution is a need to make the local economy sustainable. It is recognised that if this is to work, voluntary, community, social enterprise organisations, neighbourhoods and citizens must be ready and able to take the opportunity and responsibility.  And they must convince Town Halls that they can deliver. Maybe therefore, this is why the double devolution hasn’t really happened?

SAA is not a new concept, having been implemented in various forms and by a wide range of organisations since the 1970s.  But there is a growing number of organisations in GM that have adopted this approach to help them measure their overall impact and quality by integrating the ‘proving – improving – and be accountable’ processes into their day-to-day operations.

SAA accurately describes what an organisation is achieving in economic, social and environmental terms, and allows it to demonstrate to others what its principle purposes are and what it does. It assesses social and community enterprises in a holistic way, incorporating both the views of everyone connected with the organisation and measuring indicators of its success.

The framework also includes independent verification, an audit process whereby the results can be proved to be robust and reliable, which can give confidence to both the organisation and the Town Hall looking to devolve responsibility or place a contract.

One of the main elements of SAA is the comprehensive involvement of an organisation’s stakeholders, and this can prove one of the most important reasons for procuring from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector.  SAA can demonstrate to health and other commissioners that service users and staff are indeed involved in the planning, operation and management of services from social enterprises.

Unlimited Potential (UP) is a social enterprise providing health and happiness services, which grew up in the Charlestown and Lower Kersal area of Salford.

ultd-potential

Formed by residents participating in a local health task group, and now tackling health issues in partnership with local people, its work includes managing services at two local healthy living centres, health outreach services and work which addresses the specific health and happiness issues of local residents.

UP is very keen to prove its ‘positive impact’ as it develops a sustainable business strategy, and has used social accounting and audit to do this.

UP’s ability to demonstrate the benefits of its work through social accounting and audit, adds ‘value’ to public service commissioners who are provided with evidence of partnership working, involvement of local people in the design and management of services, innovation, responsiveness to local need and local ownership. This has contributed to UP becoming a nationally recognised and respected social enterprise.

SAA can be used to demonstrate individual and collective strengths, prove the sector’s competence as providers of public services, and meeting the challenge of taking local responsibility and citizen led action.

It can help devolution to happen.

Anne Lythgoe, Vice Chair & Treasurer/Finance Director  www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk

Social impact: should we be talking process or product?

I was reminded recently of the story about Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece.  It is the well-known story of a young man with a goal in mind but in order to achieve that end, he has a long, challenging and arduous journey.   It was an adventure, and throughout the journey Jason grew as a person, became wiser, tackled problems and overcame obstacles.  Although the final product was obtaining a prize, the process involved in trying to attain the prize was equally important.

The lesson learned from this story being…the journey is as important as the destination.  In today’s media parlance – we were on a journey and it was a bit of a rollercoaster but we got through it!

With a bit of a stretch of the imagination it is similar with social impact reporting.  The activities that are done to understand the degree that one’s organisation is making a difference can be as important – if not more important – than the resultant social report.

I have been involved with social accounting and audit for many years.  Working with others, we developed a PROCESS to help organisations collect relevant quantitative and qualitative information relating to their central purpose.  This happens each year in the same way that financial accounts and ‘books’ are kept.

Organisations then bring this information together and report on their performance and on their impact on their stakeholders.   The process is internal to the organisation, owned and controlled by the organisation – thereby empowering it to self-monitor and self-evaluate.

At the end of a year the organisation will produce its own social impact report – this is the PRODUCT.  Thus. the process can be regarded as the ‘journey’ and the social report is the ‘destination’.

With social accounting and audit there is a wee sting in the tail in that the product is externally verified with an audit – again similar to financial annual accounts.  The audit ensures that the final product of the report is valid and a true interpretation of what the organisation has, and has not, achieved during the year.  On passing the audit, a statement is issued – not golden fleece I am afraid – just a signed certificate.

Organisations who regularly keep a set of social accounts and subject them to audit report a number of significant benefits.

The PROCESS helps them understand more clearly what they do to achieve an overall purpose; it forces them to listen to a wide range of different stakeholders; it can keep them on track; it can help them in explaining more clearly what they do; it can be used in organisational record-keeping and learning; it can get people to work together more effectively; and so on.

There are benefits too from producing a report – the PRODUCT.  It can be summarised and distributed widely to stakeholders and the wider public; it can be used to report back to funders; it can be the basis for future planning; it can track change that an organisation has had to deal with; it can be used, in part, to brief outsiders; and so on.

So in social accounting and audit both the PROCESS and the PRODUCT have value.

The Social Audit Network (SAN) was set up to help third sector and community organisation to introduce social accounting and audit into their organisations – and to help them with the process of social accounting as well as producing a social report.

Within SAN we often have the debate – is process more important than the product or vice versa.

I fall more into the process ‘camp’.  For me the final report does have value and I can see the advantages of having the statement endorsing the social accounts.  But it is going through the process that can have a more influential effect on the organisation.  It can help all parts of an organisation not only to take stock on a regular basis but also to reflect on what the organisation is trying to do and how it is doing that.

So many social and community enterprises see a need, respond to it, try and address it, and then get caught up in delivering whatever it is that they do.  Building into the annual organisational cycle a process of data collection and stakeholder engagement to quantify outputs and to understand and to be able to report on outcomes, can be hugely beneficial.  Is the organisation doing the best it can?  Could it be doing something better or more effective? How can it change? How can it plan to improve?

The folk in the product camp stress the value of a report in that it can be used as the central document in an organisation.  It can be used to prove or evidence the work that has been done by the organisation in achieving its ends.

Now if you are a process-type person, you have to be able to accept that processes can be messy.  Through trial and error…and trial again, one learns – and through that learning a deeper understanding begins to emerge.

In researching this blog I came across a website – Prek and K Sharing which deals with working with children to create art.  They argue that in encouraging art the PROCESS of doing is more important than the final PRODUCT.

In the picture below the process is messy and undefined but reflects the learning, while the well-structured neat product is more presentable and more accepted.

process-product

It is the same with social impact reporting.  The process of collecting, collating and making sense of information and opinions can be messy – while the learning from it can be immense.

So which would you choose?  The process (read Jason’s adventurous journey) or the product (read ‘golden fleece’) or both…

Alan Kay – Social Audit Network (SAN) – www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk

Social reporting – a pretty penny or not?

Sharp intake of breath………’that’ll cost you a pretty penny’.

Those of us who have at various times in life owned older cars will appreciate immediately the unwelcome tones of a garage mechanic delivering his verdict on that elusive ‘knocking sound’.

For 10 years I’ve led an organisation committed to annually completing the Social Accounting and Audit cycle. Every year we have published our Social Accounts in an attractive, professionally produced form.

I am a Social Accounting and Audit enthusiast. I make no apology! No sooner does a network colleague or contact from the charitable or social enterprise sector start to reflect on their challenges around funding, outcome measures, and the demanding competitive environment, then they walk straight into my slightly evangelistic pitch!

The responses I get when I’ve waffled on for a while about how brilliant Social Accounting and Audit is and the incredible transformational impact it has had on my own organisation, ranges from; “tell me more, that sounds good”, to; “sharp intake of breath……that must cost a pretty penny?” And if not the latter then something along the lines of; “We’re just so busy at the moment we haven’t got the time to even think about those lovely add-ons like measuring social impact”.

I think most people will realise that over a 10 year period a charity like ours will have had some extremely busy times and have often been tempted to play the “we’re just too busy” card! But we never have. Why?

At the risk of slipping this blog into the style of a Ronnie Corbett monologue and going backwards more than forwards…….I need to set the scene a bit.

The NeuroMuscular Centre (NMC) is the charity I work for. We’re a medium sized charity with a regional focus but national UK-wide reach. We are the Centre of Excellence for People with Muscular Dystrophy and their families. We provide a wide range of treatment, advice, and training services along with carer’s breaks. As well as this, the jewel in our crown, is providing supported employment in a graphic design and print social enterprise.

In 2015 we won the GSK IMPACT Award. This recognises the best small/medium charities working in the Health and Wellbeing sector. We won partly because we so effectively and consistently measure and assess the impact of our work.

NMC

Back in 2005 NMC was like so many others in our sector. We relied on case studies and pen pictures to evidence that we made a positive difference to a few people. But we had nothing to show the scale of the impact we made for lots of people.

Meanwhile back at the Car Mechanics with my 1974 Vauxhall Viva and the sharp intake of breath; ”if you want my advice mate, it’ll cost you a pretty penny if you don’t measure Social Impact!” Never mind the couple of person-weeks it takes to produce them and never mind the £1200 Social Audit fee. These are tiny (but significant of course) investments in the life cycle of vibrant small and medium sized charities and social enterprises. The payback from Social Accounting and Audit is huge.

The investment in time? “2 weeks you say?” Yes around 2 person-weeks are spent in total each year to produce the draft of our Social Accounts – the stage at which we’re audited. This investment of time is shared between a number of people in the team and so is not onerous.

This investment gets easier every year as Social Accounting gets increasingly embedded in the soul and culture of the organisation. Things that begin as chores become the normal way of working. The whole team, and indeed our service users, begin to think about measuring impact automatically, NOT because we have to do it for a feedback return for a funder or contract partner, but because we want to do it.

Social Accounting and Audit puts our organisation in the driving seat in the relationships we have with our funders and contract partners. We have powerful feedback and measured impact information instantly to hand. We use it to make our funding applications stronger and more impactful than those who still rely on case studies. We use the analysis and data that we’ve produced to provide updates and feedback.

Here’s my knockout question(s)………….

Do you ever have to go and hurriedly ask people for feedback in order to complete a feedback report for a funder with a tight deadline? How many times a year does this happen? Is that unplanned activity disruptive and mired with duplicated effort?

Does that 2 person-week investment still seem like an onerous commitment that you couldn’t possible justify?

If the mechanic had mentioned a £1200 bill to fix my Viva then I know what I’d have done! But the £1200 fee for the Social Audit is not a reason to consider changing your vehicle.

The Social Audit is a day packed with influencing opportunities, diagnostics, recognition and endorsement that will not only remove that worrying knocking sound but will turn your old Viva into a much more rounded, accomplished, economical and environmentally sensitive organisation.

It will be one of the most important events in the life of your organisation. You and your team will enjoy it, be stimulated and informed by it. The sense of achievement and reflection that will flow from it will outweigh EVEN the pleasure you got from the plushest furry dice you ever bought for your Viva.

Matthew Lanham – Chief Executive – Neuromuscular Centre

matthew.lanham@nmcentre.com

Social impact reporting and marketing: a hazy divide?

“Marketing is manipulation and deceit. It tries to turn people into something they aren’t – individuals focused solely on themselves, maximising their consumption of goods that they don’t need.” Noam Chomsky

It is a powerful quote from Chomsky and not one that I entirely agree with as I feel that businesses have to promote and sell their products in the competitive environment which is part of our prevailing economic system.

The whole idea of marketing reminds me of a time I was wisely told by a colleague that there is often a difference between what people say they are doing and what they are actually doing.  This brings me to the main thread running through this blog which is the relationship between ‘marketing’ and ‘social impact reporting’.

In some ways it comes back to why should social and community enterprises regularly report on their performance and their impact on people, the environment and on the society in which they exist.  They do not have to.  So why do they?

Often social enterprises will say they are doing it in order to market what they do and to be able promote and ‘sell’ what they can provide – ‘selling’ it to investors or funders and other stakeholders.  This is quite legitimate and to be applauded but I would argue should not be the sole reason to report on social impact.

The last few decades have shown a huge and pervading expansion and emphasis on ‘marketing’.  Entrepreneurs starting out or wanting to expand will come up with a ‘product’ and then spend an inordinate amount of time, resources and energy to try and sell that product in the market.  Arguably, organisations with a central social objective should by definition not need to spend as much on this, as they should be responding to a social need and through their activities provide for that need to those that benefit from their work.

The area where social impact reporting and marketing meets manifests itself in Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) reporting.  It is admirable and to be encouraged that businesses report more holistically and include the positive impact that they are having on the environment, on people and on the wider culture.  But this is basically philanthropy.  Their core business, if you like, is to maximise profit for their owners or founders.  They also have wider impacts but they remain secondary to their core purpose.

Social enterprises, on the other hand should be reporting regularly on their core business with is positive social change.  Social enterprises should be assessed and judged on how well they are achieving their central purpose and the impact they are having.

Social impact reporting should not only be used for marketing but also to contribute to planning, to the management of the whole organisations, to review what has worked and what has not, to understanding priorities, to involve processes that listen to stakeholders, to understand costs and outcomes of differing strategies, and so on.  It is about reporting and accounting and not just a way of providing marketing information.

Social Accounting and Audit takes organisations through a process that asks for a regular review of the mission, values and objectives alongside an analysis of stakeholders (all those individuals and organisations that can affect an organisation and are affected by it).  It requires an ‘impact map’ identifying outputs and outcomes to emerge from the activities of an organisation.  This is followed by collection of quantitative and qualitative data that is brought together in an annual set of draft social accounts.  The social accounts should seek to accurately reflect the performance and impact of the organisation during the past year.  This ‘account’ then is subject to an independent audit and the revised draft becomes the social report.  The process runs parallel to the financial accounting and audit process.

A social report for social and community enterprises is about proving what your organisation has achieved – backing up the claims with evidence; improving as an organisation as inevitably decisions on the future will be based around hard facts; and finally, and this is of increasing importance, about being accountable to all stakeholders.

It is important to recognise that the audit checks the thoroughness and veracity of reporting and does not pass judgement.  The judgement about performance and impact is left to stakeholders and the report should be openly disclosed to them.  They then make a judgement about the organisation.

Some organisations going through regular social accounting and audit consider the final report as of huge importance.  I would argue that going through the process is equally important.

It would be a mistake to think of social impact reporting only in terms of how it can be used to market the organisation.

The quote from Chomsky at the start of this blog reflects the cynicism around marketing – claiming that it is only about businesses trying to persuading people to spend their money.

Social and community enterprises are more about responsibly and regularly reporting on how they have effected change that contributes to benefits for people and the wider society.   In social reporting what an organisation says it does should be as close as possible to what it actually does.

Telling people about what an organisation does is one thing; but doing this in order to sell more and more products and services is another…

…and never the twain should meet…

Alan Kay

Social Audit Network (SAN) www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk

Measuring social impact ‘is like quicksilver in the hand’

I was at a conference recently about the future of Volunteering where discussion arose about how to measure its impact. Representatives from volunteering organisers complained about the problem of commissioners expecting longitudinal measurement of the social impact of volunteering, when this is something that varies and changes on a day to day basis. This made me think of Dorothy Parker’s quote about quicksilver.  ‘Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it and it darts away’.

I learned that most people, especially the young, volunteer for a short period of time, or just for a one-off event. Tracking the difference that this has made for them and for society is nigh on impossible. (…and certainly would involve a huge amount of effort).

So if commissioners need to know the difference that something as ever-changing as volunteering is making, can this really be done? Should we clutch the quicksilver and try to make it fit into a box of metrics, or leave the hand open and watch it change?

The whole problem of tracking change over a long period of time is not being addressed by most social impact measurement approaches, which take a ‘snap shot’ or try to clutch at the truth of the impact (not always capturing the true picture and certainly not understanding it in the medium to long term…)

So I have two suggestions – one for the volunteering organisers and a follow-up for commissioners;

Organisers – look to the use of social accounting and audit, which at least tries to track social impact over time due to the regularity of the process… Use a repeated and robust measurement system as part of your daily business, and keep it there.

Commissioners – would you accept the ‘passporting’ of evidence about social impact. or learning from evaluation between projects if there was a robust social accounting system in place? Rather than expecting measurement in minute detail for a provider to receive payment, would you be happy if observed and assumed impact/outcomes could be shown in the longer term through independently verified social accounts?

Dorothy Parker’s original quote was about Love. I also learned that people volunteer because they care about something! Let’s not put them off by stifling this caring with form-filling and over-zealous counting of what they do.

Anne Lythgoe is Manager of Policy and Partnerships at Salford City Council and is supporting a partnership between the public and VCSE sectors in the City and Greater Manchester. More information can be found at www.salfordsocialvalue.org..uk

Anne is also a Director of the Social Audit Network. www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk

Twitter: @anne_lythgoe