Seddon, F. A., Hazenberg, R. and Denny, S. (2012) Testing an institutional partnership in social enterprise governance. Paper presented to: 4th International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC), University of Birmingham, 12-14 September 2012.
This paper reports a research study that investigated the application of a model of team-based philosophy to test the efficacy of an ‘institutional partnership’ between a UK university (hereinafter referred to as UNI) and a regional social enterprise development agency (hereinafter referred to as SEDA) as they sought to set-up and develop a work-integration social enterprise (WISE). Funding was granted initially to support the set-up and development of the WISE with the additional requirement of evaluating the ‘institutional partnership’ and its ability to transform a funded project into a financially sustainable WISE. The research design was longitudinal, conducted over a period of 18 months and had three data collection phases; ‘early’, ‘middle’ and ‘late’. This paper reports the analysis of data gathered during the ‘middle’ phase of this research. Individual, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 participants involved in the partnership organisations and the WISE programme delivery staff. Qualitative analysis of the interview data revealed five emergent themes, which were subsequently interpreted by the researchers as: ‘Objectives’, ‘Partnership’, ‘Staff/management interaction’, ‘Problems’ and ‘Individual Perceptions’. The theme ‘Objectives’ revealed that the overall philosophy of the company had not changed from the ‘early’ phase but a clearly defined pathway leading to the company becoming a sustainable social enterprise still remained elusive. The theme ‘Partnership’ revealed that there was no evidence of an effective partnership being created between the organisations involved and there was a deepening conflict within the UNI representatives based on the length of time required for the company to provide income for the UNI. The theme ‘Staff/management interaction’ revealed the links between the appointment of an unsuitable Agency Manager and the failure of the company to initiate procedures to address issues of future sustainability. The theme ‘Problems’ highlighted the negative impact of the Agency Manager on the company. This impact was considered by the board to be significant enough for them to require the Agency Manager to leave the company, which he subsequently agreed to do. Other problems were deemed to be related to recruitment processes, which resulted in the appointment of ineffective members of staff. This problematic recruitment process was partly attributed to recruiting staff from within the one of the employment enhancement programmes. Although this recruitment process supported the company’s social enterprise philosophy it produced problems because the staff appointed were incapable of meeting the funder’s mandatory reporting criteria on more than one occasion. The theme ‘Individual perceptions’ revealed the few positive observations made by two staff members related to their enhanced experience and enjoyment as a result of working at the WISE. The results of the analysis of the data from this ‘middle’ phase, when compared to criteria from the adopted team-based model, suggests that the partnership and WISE staff were still operating as a ‘loose group’ and had not yet metamorphosed into an ‘effective team’