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.

4. Conclusions

A wide variety of opinions about the role and structure of the new single intermediary were expressed by the research participants, including various opposing views. However, a number of key themes emerged which reflect the general, if not unanimous, consensus on how the new intermediary should function.

Overall, a key theme emerging from the research is a need for change, both in the quality and type of support provided to social enterprises, and in the organisation of the body providing this support. This concluding section summarises the key areas where the research findings suggest that there is a need for improvements to current provision.

Views on types of services and support the intermediary should provide

Supporting networking, communicating between the social enterprise sector and key statutory bodies, representing the social enterprise sector at a national level, and influencing policy on behalf of the sector were seen by most participants as the key roles of the new intermediary.

In each of these areas, at least half of survey respondents felt that current provision was insufficient or lacking and needed improvements. Participants generally felt that there is a need for stronger links with local, grassroots social enterprises, greater geographical coverage of social enterprise networks, and clearer communication with social enterprises about national and local policy making and investment. Many research participants also felt that not all social enterprises are currently equally well-represented and that there is a need for greater acknowledgment and representation of the sector in all its diversity. Participants also wanted the intermediary to develop stronger links with public bodies and private businesses beyond the Scottish Government's Third Sector Unit, and to clearly communicate information from these bodies to the sector.

There was general support among survey participants and some interviewees for the intermediary to support social enterprises by promoting good practice, promoting social impact, supporting research and evaluation, and providing information and advice to social enterprises. Again, many survey respondents felt that current service provision in these areas should be improved.

The majority of survey participants also felt it would be useful for the intermediary to provide organisational and business support such as supporting with generating trading income, applying for grants, and general business/operational support. However, the proportion of social enterprises saying that this was not necessary was higher for these services than all others they were asked about, and some commented that this should not be the role of the intermediary. Most interviewees felt that this should not be the role of the intermediary, arguing that these services can be better provided by specialist organisations. They suggested that the intermediary's role in these areas should be to link organisations with specialists.

Views on paying an annual membership fee

The majority of social enterprises responding to the survey said they were willing to pay an annual membership fee (85%). This was the case even among those organisations that are not currently members of either intermediary, with 83% of this group willing to pay a fee.

The most common amount organisations were willing to pay per year was up to £50 (34%), followed by £51-£100 (21%), and £101-200 (16%). Fourteen percent of organisations said they would be willing to pay more than £200 per year for membership. Larger organisations were more likely to say they could pay a larger fee, and smaller organisations were more likely to say they would pay a smaller/no annual fee.

Views on the representativeness of the intermediary

A common theme among survey participants and interviewees was a call for the intermediary to be more representative of the whole social enterprise sector than is currently the case. They commonly felt that the diverse range of voices, interests and needs of the sector are not as well-represented as they should be, and that social enterprises are often not consulted by the intermediaries on matters affecting them or on the intermediaries' policy positions.

Organisations and interviewees suggested a number of improvements to the representativeness of the new intermediary. Some suggested developing a dedicated research and consultation function to enable deeper engagement with and understanding of the sector's needs. Several participants advocated for a fully-democratic governance structure allowing the intermediary to be accountable to its members to help encourage and enable a more representative structure. Participants also suggested building social enterprise networks across all geographical areas and making stronger links with grassroots social enterprises. One interviewee also suggested focusing on promoting and giving space to the multitude of differing voices and opinions in the sector in national level debates, rather than the intermediary seeking to develop a single "representative voice" for the whole sector.

Views on governance, organisational structure and transparency

Related to the previous point, a number of interviewees argued for a more bottom-up, democratic and transparent governance structure for the new intermediary, to ensure that it is accountable to its members. Concerns were raised that a more top-down, centralised governance-structure gives grassroots social enterprises too little voice, and risks allowing the intermediary to become dominated by particular dominant voices and personalities, rather than accurately representing the sector as a whole.

Calls were also made to ensure an outcomes-based focus to the intermediary's work, for example linking funding to defined outcomes.

Views on defining and unifying the social enterprise sector

The research drew attention to the need for the new intermediary to work to unify the divisions within the sector, particularly over the definition of "social enterprise". Many interviewees and survey respondents advocated for a "broad church" approach to membership of the intermediary, incorporating a wide range of legal forms, including some that allow for profit-making. However, others wanted to limit membership to more traditional models of social enterprise.

While it is beyond the remit of this research to comment on how social enterprises should be defined by the intermediary, it is clear that the intermediary should be prepared to build bridges within the sector in this area.

Views on the relationship between the intermediary and Scottish Government

There were calls from interviewees for a realignment of the relationship between the intermediary and Scottish Government to ensure a strong, independent voice for the sector that is willing to challenge Scottish Government when necessary. Some interviewees felt that because the intermediary will be directly funded by the Scottish Government, it may be hesitant to do this. They advocated for a model that gives the intermediary the confidence to offer challenge and constructive criticism to the government without being concerned about the implications for its continued funding.



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