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Empowering Social Firms

Empowering social firms

Partnership between Middlesex University (Social Policy Research Centre - SPRC) and Social Firms UK (SFUK)

Impact highlights: The KTP has developed an innovative online toolkit and resources to help grow the social firms sector, placing SFUK in a much more knowledgeable and effective position to provide advocacy, information, support, networking and partnership opportunities to social firms. It has supported a new strategic direction and enabled SFUK to develop skills that are essential to their future development.

Objectives: To investigate the characteristics and needs of social firms in the UK and to develop dedicated tools enabling SFUK to better understand, support, strengthen and grow the sector.

Results for the Company Partner

  • Social Firms UK (SFUK) is the national membership and support organisation for the development of the Social Firm and Work Integration Social Enterprise (WISE) sector in the UK. As social enterprises their aim is to be self sufficient, and to reinvest any profits made into the company to create more jobs or opportunities.
    During the KTP the partnership has been able to positively react and adapt to changes affecting the company and the sector as a whole, revising the original project plan to provide strategic support for the company's future financial and organisational development. The following outputs were produced:

    o Background research on the social firm sector
    o The online toolkit "InfoMine" (see below)
    o Online and Social Media Strategy for SFUK
    o Recommendations on sector mapping, development of InfoMine and enhancement of SFUK effectiveness
    o A project report summarising outputs and outcomes of the project.

Social Firms UK InfoMine (http://www.socialfirmsinfomine.org.uk) is an online toolkit designed to help individual social firms to identify their information needs and get direct access to resources and support. The toolkit includes an online questionnaire which collects information about the firm's characteristics and the user needs and produces a bespoke report with information and links. Registered users can also search the database of resources, which will be kept up-to-date by SFUK with the support of members. SFUK will encourage members to use the toolkit regularly. In this way the information collected through InfoMine will also be used for mapping and monitoring of the sector, allowing SFUK to produce regular reports and enhancing its lobbying power.

InfoMine was developed as part of a broader strategy – including a revamped website and a stronger emphasis on the use of social media – which re-visions SFUK as a collaborative community of members sharing information and providing both voluntary and professional support to each other. Staff have been provided with training to maintain, update and expand InfoMine and to make better use of social media.

The impact of the KTP includes an enhanced ability to attract members and clients and – through a stronger online network – an improved capacity to promote and provide professional services such as mentoring, business advice, training and workshops – and will support applications for funding and evidence to influence policy makers and other stakeholders.

New knowledge and capabilities acquired by company and its staff acquired as a result of KTP: Moving towards web-based solutions has meant that the Supervisors' understanding of social media usage, web-design and manipulation have increased from a standing start. Partnership work with the academic partners has also provided a better understanding of research methods that can be used in future quantitative research into the sector.

Change in the Company's competitive position resulting from the KTP: 

  • Change in annual sales turnover expected in three years' time resulting from KTP: £179,000 
  • Change in annual profit before tax expected in three years' time resulting from KTP: £121,000 (achieved through increases in membership, technical resources, consultancy and fundraising and takes account of overhead costs calculated at 19%).

Results for the Knowledge Base Partner

  • High impact on staff: enabled team to increase their expertise in the field of third sector, social enterprise and social firms in particular, enhancing knowledge about the characteristics of social firms in the UK and the challenges and opportunities they face.
  • As a result of the KTP Associate leaving before the end of the project, a member of staff was appointed in a Project Officer capacity to assist the completion of the project. In this way, the KBP had an opportunity to consolidate their team, while the Project Officer developed project management skills. Working on this project helped the advancement of her academic and career development.
  • Medium impact on teaching: KTP has led to plans to provide classes on Knowledge Exchange as part of the MSc Research Methods led by the Social Policy Research Centre. Case study material will be incorporated into teaching material. Links developed with third sector organisations will provide future internship opportunities for Middlesex students.

Potentially high impact on research:

  • Through strong links with third sector organisations and non-academic service users - invaluable sources and support for future research. 
  • Case study material about the UK social firms sector which will be used as a basis for further secondary analysis and other research projects.
  • The information entered into the InfoMine database by the toolkit users offers a pool of constantly updated data on social firms and the sector in general which upon agreement can be available to the institution for further research.

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