Category Archives: Social Business

Whither libraries?

Too old, too big…too little used?

Article update: 28.10.2017  – A really sound article on the utility of libraries by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett –  No one needs libraries any more? What rubbish  from The Guardian of Thursday, 26th October, 2017.

In it Cosslet takes to task the political pundit Andre Walker, for his omnipotent vision of the library service in the UK. Namely that no-one visits them anymore and they should all be closed down and the books given to schools.

Is there something Presidential in this decimation of the library service by Twitter?

Rhiannon goes on to thread her story with her use of the public library when young – developing intellectual curiosity, cultural awareness, knowledge of the world and taking up the rich opportunity public libraries offer to graze the landscape of the word, six books at a  time.

We recommend the article to our readers.


Original text: In the Spring of 2015 the Adam Smith Institute published an article entitled ‘The End of Local Authority Libraries‘. As the economic ice age of Osbornian austerity descended upon us, the Press was full of cultural turbulence about the closure and operational rigidity of our national literacy assets.

Although the general  Press attention has diminished, it is telling that the dilution of the library service has continued unabated, albeit with increasingly diminished media currency, as we have been further overwhelmed by matters of political moment in and about Europe, perhaps.

View, print or download the full report here…pdf

Central government, arguably, remains enthusiastic and espouses a positive vison for the library service. The recent report Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021 from the Libraries Taskforce, is almost entirely upbeat about the half decade ahead. They offer a vision of a multiplicity of supported delivery systems for a local library in section 6.3 of the report.

The website Public Libraries News, in July, declared that now ‘there are at least five hundred libraries that are staffed, if not entirely run by volunteers’. On the one hand, this is a sign, we would argue, that there is profound suport for the local library at grassroots level. But it is also a sign, looking at the plethora of continual changes and negative reviews of library services across the country on the website, that there is no clear, effective and equally profound form of new governance emerging for libraries.

One that, at once taps into localism, yet satisfies the need for an eclectic and near universal access to knowledge and leisure, free at the point of delivery for those who need it most.

The trade union Unison are to hold a National SOS Day on the 19th of October, 2017. Save our Services is designed to show that ‘...libraries are a hub and a haven in our communities. They offer a place for people to work, relax, discover and think.They are a source of local knowledge and history and give everyone access to books, DVDs, music and more, for free or at a very low cost.

But libraries also do a lot more than lend books. Many hold events, anything from story time for children to yoga classes for adults. Library workers help people look for work, advise on using IT, organise talks by authors and so much more‘.

Source: https://www.unison.org.uk/blogs/2017/08/sos-day-17/

The debate, then, continues to have currency. The Adam Smith Institute argued, in its article by Eamonn Butler, that the free market was the solution to the ‘library deficit’ issue, as to be expected. That exemplars of library innovation, in the shape of American organisations such as Library Systems and Services, were to be the saviours of a moribund library market.

However, research shows that the accession of LSSI to the pinnacle of library stewardship has not been entirely successful in the USA. An earlier article in the New York Times shows how both library staff and users, even in the more affluent cities where LSSI has obtained contracts, have been happy to lead protests. Dissenting voices to the ending of  unionised services, diminution of book stocks and antagonism towards the ethics of ‘libraries for profit’.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/business/27libraries.html

The City Library, Birmingham

The Butler argument, from the Adam Smith Institute, saw the then new Birmingham City Library building as an example of ossification of service. The £188 million building began to operate on a ‘self-funded’ basis for events, for example, in the context of author events or arts activity. Both previously seen as draws to footfall for the library service. Indeed key activities in a wider cultural obligation for libraries, we would argue.

However, debate about the capital cost of a building in austere times is one thing, but the Institute author’s position somewhat fails to recognise that it is free market policies which have led to the very fiscal landscape that has so diminished the library service.

If a library is battered by exogenous fiscal policy upheaval, it is somewhat unfair to blame the librarian for lack of service, or diversity in activity, surely?

Is there hope for change? We think so.

We were pleased to see that there is widening acceptance by Councils that the community should have control of libraries as a community resource. At the beginning of August, for example, Derby City Council declared for the cessation of control of ten libraries, which will see ‘…the loss of at least 39 library assistants’ jobs and two library managers, of almost 100 staff who work for the authority. Community groups will get £17,500 a year each to fund their own managed libraries until 2022…’

Source: http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/news/derby-news/attempt-stop-biggest-ever-shake-265614

What is concerning, in this case, is the timetable and the level of grant in aid ceded to the community organisations in the City, to effectively manage the transfer and creation of a new community organisation to deliver the service.

More positively again, Bury Council this month have approved a new community asset transfer plan. ‘The new policy means applications from groups to buy community assets from the council will be considered against ‘key tests’ designed to ensure a deal which is best for the council and residents‘. The landscape of community opportunity grows!

Source: http://www.thisislancashire.co.uk/news/15439093.New_policy_hopes_to_make_it_easier_for_groups_to_take_ownership_of_council_buildings/

However, it is entirely possible, we would argue, to imagine the creation of community libraries as Social Enterprises, where the not for profit governance model delivers a mix of volunteer and employee led services, bolstered by an admixture of social business services to support and maintain the core library provision.

A community cafe, a learning centre, a gardening or horticultural project…the list could easily be imaginatively extended by a dynamic, active community. The whole focused upon the creation of ‘…a place for people to work, relax, discover and think‘, to remind us of the Unison observation.

If the trade union are having an SOS Day, why do we not start a new think-tank movement, LASER – Libraries as Social Enterprise Renewal.

Write to conversationsEAST if you are interested in social enterprise, passionate about libraries and learning and keen to develop governance-sound, community led, not for profit library buildings.

We’ll publish a web site, host a meeting and give the idea traction?


Additional narrative – 20.08.2017

Read more here…

We have just come across a recent article in Wired by Susan Crawford, where she argues for a resurgence in phiilanthropy to revitalise the library service.

In the text, in response to a recent tweet by Jeff Bezos asking for suggestions about a new shape for his giving, she argues for an Amazon/Bezos programme of giving to libraries.

Developing Jeff Bezos’s current long term view of his ‘social investments’ towards, arguably, a philanthropic delivery that would cater for the short and the long term. Mr. Bezos describes his search for a new intitiative ‘…to help people in the here and now’. Our new library programme, as described, would do that, but also cater for the long term too.

Namely a series of Amazon Memorial Libraries, or Bezos Community Cultural Centres, would benefit the communities they were placed in, but they would also create new readers and enhance human capital in the hinterland of their sites, as well as delivering a major philosophical boost to the image of Amazon as a socially beneficial company.

You can read Susan Crawford’s piece on the pages of Wired here.

We understand Jeff Bezos reads every email sent directly to him. We’ll write to Mr. Bezos and make a suggestion supporting a new philanthropic venture into the British library landscape, and explore the models that might be created.

We would argue that history has been kind to the Carnegie model of library establishment, why should not future generations look as kindly upon Jeff Bezos?

Watch this space for an update, even if we don’t get a reply!


Useful links to accompany this article:

Library over-watch!

http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/

Use it or lose it! – The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/16/library-use-in-england-fell-dramatically-over-last-decade-figures-show

City Library Birmingham: Image by Gareth Williams - Creative Commons

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The Self Employment Summit!

The RSA, in partnership with Google and craft marketplace Etsy, recently held a Self Employment summit. Stimulating debate and reflection about the changing landscape of employment and the rise and condition of those ‘going it alone’.

The short film below offers insights into the various debates on the day and some of the original ideas and thoughts emerging from the discussion…


See the movie on YouTubeSee the original film on YouTube here

The debate ranges across some interesting data, movements in the economy and is awash with definitions. Data seems to show that since the year 2000, the self -employed as a recognisable economic cohort, have increased by 30%. With the self-employed now representing some 15% of the total active work force in the UK.

Between 2008 and 2013, we are told, the self-employed made up a staggering 90% of all jobs created. Even more seismic, in terms of paradigm shift, is the suggestion that by 2017/2018, the self employed numerically, may exceed the total number of individuals currently working in the Public Sector.

For those of us who work across the Public Sector/Charitable Sector divide, this is perhaps not so surprising. As Local Authorities continue to divest themselves of employed core professional expertise in a number of community support, education and housing sectors, the expertise is re-hired as consultants or contractors.

What does set this change in context, however, is not the numeric rise in self-employment, whatever the sector, professional or otherwise. It is the dramatic increase in diminution of turnover.

Steven Toft, who is the author of Flip Chart Fairy Tales, speaking at the one day RSA event, opines that between 2008 and 2013 aggregate income by the self-employed has fallen by a staggering 8 billion pounds.

However you define being self-employed, and there are multiple definitions, in the RSA research, by HMRC and in the national Labour Market Survey – it is clear that there is a re-structuring of the nature of employment wholly under way.

What this movement is not, however, is an attempt to create quality of life, sustainability of earnings or the increase in cultural and fiscal capital that this change might, given the right business environment, look to build over time.

Not all self-employed people strive to be the next Richard Branson, but that for the individual, given this data, the drive might be led by a belief, actual or not, in the achievement of a better work/life balance, access to culture and the arts and an exercise of choice regardless of cost, that corporatism or global capital does not offer. We do not know.

Finally, we would have liked the debate to have extended fully across social enterprise/social business as a new model for the self employed and entrepreneurially minded.  New financial markets and new business models are emerging in these two sectors. Perhaps that is where the real dynamism in the economy is, for those who go it alone?


Other good reads for context:

See our recent article featuring Every Day Employers, an RSA report from the end of last year – offering insights and suggestions to restructure traditional employer/employee relationships. See more here…

See also Salvation in a Start-up, a RSA/Etsy report, from last summer, on the emergence of new micro-businesses. The why and how. See more here…

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Is yours a socially productive place?

Today sees the launch of a new RSA report, generously sponsored and in collaboration with British LandSocially productive places – Learning from what works: lessons from British Land – born out of an earlier RSA conference.

Social productivity is the additional social value that can be created through better relationships between citizens, society, business and public services…

The report is a long letter to developers, communities and planners, essentially pleading the case that ‘…long term property value is driven by the long term economic relevance of an asset’.

sociallyproductiveplacescoverpic-mA socially productive place would build community capacity to benefit from and drive growth, and increase resilience to shocks and give an ability to adapt to new circumstances. This is not a new idea. The evidence in the report tracks community development progressive initiatives from early EU regional funding to the New Deal for Communities.

What is new, perhaps, is the tight focus on new skill acquisition by all partners and a fresh focus on method and delivery for impact. The same refocus is taking place in the community finance sector, where the ‘impact investor’ and how outcomes are mapped and delivered is a priority for funders, project planners and community partnerships. The report exercises this viewpoint well.

pdfIcon4   Download a complete copy of this report here…

(As an example of this new social finance mode of delivery see how Social Enterprise East Midlands worked in collaboration with Big Society Capital to deliver an informative and effective mapping session for politicians, social bankers and financial intermediaries in this new sector. See more here…Ed.).

The RSA Report also shows how private capital is developing both it’s land bank and its ideas with impact in mind. The report references brands such as Asda ‘... adopting a ‘community venturing’ approach, forming partnerships with charities and public services‘.

Discover more about shopping for shared value and community venturing in a recent edition of Matthew Taylor’s blog – read more here.

Planning should be thought of as a front-line service.

The success of a development should be judged by its impact on those who use it and its ability to contribute to a broader set of social and economic outcomes, the report declares. Building high quality public realm is expensive, but, says the report, privatising public space is not the answer.

Accessible public realm is an important feature of social productivity places – places designed to support social and economic connectivity. When built, the people must come.

To achieve the above, then there are a number of often new issues to wrangle with for key players in the development process. Investing in community relationships, by any mature, established corporate entitity requires agility and commitment. The report focuses on three key elements…

  • Successful community investment takes time and effort by developers, including long term consistent representation, engagement by senior executives and dedicated staff.
  • Local political support is essential, site specific planning frameworks are not.
  • The results for developers can be profitable as quality of public realm drives rents, and local consent for density allows greater floorspace yield from a site.

The Cambridge sub-region:

One of our own sub-regional cities features in the report too. Cambridge, which quietly broke out of green-belt constraints in the 1990’s, created new communities and growth areas. These well designed and built communites, although having offered an increase in take up of local services were less successful, the report indicates, in increasing employment in those new communities. They have, however, increased pressure on transport links.

As universities become ever increasing drivers of economic development, then local areas should increasingly consider graduate retention as an important part of their
social and economic development thinking, the report highlights.  Working with both universities and developers to pursue this goal should be a strategic priority for the future. Certainly a key development driver for Cambridge, being the world class research nexus that it is.

Finally, the report gives readers examples of non-linear, non -traditional development models which utilise public spaces for community benefit in innovative ways.

One such featured is Incredible Edible – whose growth has been achieved by by-passing bureaucratic processes, ‘…which rely on a narrow account of how value is created and maintained’.

interneticon  Discover the Incredible Edible Network here – just one of the great things to come out of Yorkshire…

In summary, this is an important paper, which whilst containing no ravishing new insights or philosophy, should score very, very highly with the community development sector in the way that it brings together, in a new meld, a variety of distinct skill sets to map a new way forward  for developers, planners, politicians and community groups.

You can still find the content of the original conference, and the papers presented by a list of distinguished speakers here, on The RSA web site.

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80,000 Hours – route map for change?

80,000 Hours have just published their strategic review for 2014.

As a new organisation 80,000 is clearly flexing and changing as the efficacy of their campaigns, support for students and discovery of a sustainable social business model begin to emerge.

As a group of people they are dedicated to the take up of social impact as a career choice by graduates. They have fostered a wide debate about earning to give, and now, from the evidence of their strategy thinking, are looking for a way to build upon their research expertise and web publishing capabilities.

We read the strategy document with interest here at conversationsEAST. What has been produced, it seems to us, is a general template for any organisation which wishes to pursue societal change.

What emerges is a strong focus on original research, coupled to applying the emergent information, data  and reflection to web outputs in order to disseminate ideas and raise recruitment.

Whilst expressed briefly here, the concepts do not seem sparklingly original. However, as to be expected from the creative cohort at 80,000, they are not often expressed so elegantly or in such a clear and structured way.

interneticon  Discover 80,000 Hours for yourself and read their 2014 strategy and development document here…

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The Social Progress Index 2014

A new indicator of human well-being and potential delivered, the Social Progress Index for 2014,  uses non-economic data to map the nations of the world and to determine their relative rank in achieving social progress. interneticon Discover it on-line here.

A recent article and the latest RSA Short focus on the issues of economic growth and how there are omissions in the singular pursuit of economic growth, as a proxy for the development of the human condition.

It is an interesting idea that there should be a non-economic proxy for human well-being, regularly and cogently calculated, which serves as a measurer of human development. The pursuit of which leavens the aggressive one-sidedness of capital by pivoting economic activity into a pursuit for human happiness.

Could the Social Progress Index be the proxy long awaited?

Poorer countries are often compared using to the UN’s Human Development Index, though this tends to be highly-correlated with GDP, with all the limitations that implies. One of the strengths of the SPI is that, by only using social and environmental indicators and excluding all economic measures, it is easier to compare how countries with similar GDP are doing relative to each other.
Matthew Bishop – The Economist

In this 2014 analysis the United Kingdom ranks 13th in the world in terms of the values subscribed to by the index. The top three world nations are New Zealand, Switzerland and Iceland.

The interneticon data clusters used for the index are divided across three main headings – basic human needs, the foundations of well-being and opportunity. The U.K. does well in global terms with regard to water and waste infrastructure for example, as to be expected, and has a good score on the opportunities available for individuals to change their lives. We do poorly on rankings around  equality and inclusion.

This short video compares and contrasts Gross Domestic Product outcomes with the SPI…

The new index is fostered by the Social Progress Imperative. A movement that subscribes to the goal of developing and guiding access to social investment ‘…which creates a shared language and common goals to align different organizations and achieve greater social impact’.  interneticon Find the Imperative on-line here.

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Profit pitch or social welfare?

The short film below, from the TED talks series, is delivered Harish Manwani, the Chief Operating Officer of Unilever. It is not, perhaps surprisingly,  an advertisement for soup or soap.

Harish joined Unilever in 1976, rising up the corporate ladder, to his current eminent position. This talk seeks to add to the three basic tenets of growth, Manwani argues, which traditionally is built upon consistency, competitiveness and profitability, by adding responsibility.

The notion of adding social value as a contingent outcome with economic value is not new, but the telling of it by a key player in a world wide corporation is remarkable.

Manwani tells of the Unilever project, interneticon Shakti, which seeks to empower women in small business (..and to sell soap). But he argues with passion that science underpins his company’s activity, yet teaches millions about hygiene and hand washing as life saving activities.

‘A brand can be at the forefront of social change’ he says – this is a powerful argument for the interneticon Social Business model we think. Do you agree?

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