Social enterprise intermediary review: stakeholder views - research report

Results of research to understand the views of social enterprises and key stakeholders in the social enterprise sector regarding the role and nature of a new single social enterprise intermediary body.

1. Introduction

This report presents the findings of a research study conducted by Scottish Government researchers to understand social enterprises' and stakeholders' opinions on the role that a new, Scottish Government-funded single social enterprise intermediary body should take on.

A Scottish Government review of the current intermediary function, which at present allows for two separate intermediary bodies, is currently underway. This follows calls to do so from within the sector, including the two current intermediary bodies themselves, Social Enterprise Scotland, and SENScot – Social Enterprise Network Scotland.[1]

In response to that call, the Scottish Government has committed to setting out a plan to fund a strengthened single intermediary body with responsibility for representing the social enterprise sector across Scotland. This commitment was set out in Scotland's Social Enterprise Action Plan 2021-24 which was published in March 2021, and forms part of the ten-year Social Enterprise Strategy published in December 2016.

The aim of the present research project is to understand stakeholder views on the role and purpose of the new, strengthened intermediary, and how it can support the interests of the social enterprise sector in Scotland most effectively.

1.1. Methods

The research draws on two sources of data: a survey of Scottish social enterprises and a set of qualitative interviews with key stakeholders.

Survey of social enterprises

An online survey was developed and distributed to social enterprises across Scotland to seek views directly from social enterprises. This was publicised by the Scottish Government, the intermediary bodies, and key stakeholders, and was open for approximately three weeks during July and August 2021.

We received survey responses from 151 organisations. There are over 6,000 social enterprises in Scotland, which means that the survey responses represent a relatively small proportion of the total. It is unclear how wide the reach of the survey promotion was, but given that the majority of respondents were members of one or more intermediary body, it is likely that many non-members in particular were not aware of it.

Other factors which may have affected the response rate are the timing of the survey and survey fatigue. The survey took place over the Scottish school summer holiday period, which may have limited some organisations' ability to respond due to staff absences. Social enterprises may also have been asked to complete more surveys than usual over the last year as a result of efforts to gain feedback on social enterprises' experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The response rate may also indicate that there is potentially a relatively low interest in, or awareness of, the role of the intermediaries among the social enterprise sector as a whole. This is supported by the fact that among survey respondents which were not currently members of either current social enterprise intermediary, 24% said that they were not previously aware of the intermediaries.

The survey contained a mixture of closed- and open-ended questions, which were analysed by a Scottish Government researcher. Coding and analysis of the open-ended questions was used to add detail and explanations to the quantitative responses. When interpreting the survey results, it is important to bear in mind that the respondents do not form a representative sample of social enterprises across Scotland, and therefore the results cannot be taken to reflect the views of the entire sector.

Stakeholder interviews

A series of six interviews were conducted with key stakeholders in the social enterprise sector, with representatives from eight organisations taking part. Each of the current social enterprise intermediary bodies took part, as well as six organisations strategically involved in the social enterprise sector. The interviewees were representatives of the following organisations:

Table 1: List of organisations participating in stakeholder interviews

Social enterprise intermediary bodies

  • Social Enterprise Scotland (SES)
  • SENScot – Social Enterprise Network Scotland

Key strategic stakeholders

  • Firstport
  • Social Investment Scotland (SIS)
  • Scottish Enterprise
  • South of Scotland Enterprise
  • Community Enterprise
  • Social Enterprise World Forum

The selection of interviewees was designed to give a range of perspectives from different parts of the sector, but it is important to note that these organisations do not give a representative view of the entire sector. Rather, the information from the interviews was primarily sought to give greater insight into some of the issues raised during the survey.

Four interviews were conducted with individual organisations (including the two intermediary bodies) and two were conducted with two organisations present. The interviews were semi-structured, asking participants about their views on the current role of the social enterprise intermediary bodies, and how they envisage the new intermediary best supporting the social enterprise sector. The interviews were analysed qualitatively to draw out the key themes emerging from the discussions.

The survey and interviews were conducted by Scottish Government researchers, and recorded and stored securely for analysis in line with GDPR legislation. All participants were provided with a privacy notice to explain the use of their data in the research, and gave their consent to take part in the research. All respondents have been anonymised in the final analysis to protect the identities of research participants.



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