Continuing Education, Economic Growth and Changes of Mind and Culture

Life is what happens to you
while you’re busy
making other plans.

John Lennon, Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)

This paper is about metamorphosis, and in particular the changes that occur during the process of transforming a publically sector driven education policy initiative into a third sector arts based education social enterprise. It will consider those changes that are forced upon the protagonists in that process; the changes the protagonists initiate for themselves and the effect of these changes on organisational structure, culture, identity, programme and the raison d’etre of the enterprise itself. It is particularly timely given the recent upheavals in the public sector and the Coalition government’s intention to broaden the supplier base of public services like to health and education to the private, charitable and social enterprise sectors.

It will do this by focusing on the Aspire Trust, a social enterprise based in Merseyside and will focus particularly on its current business activities in the field of continuous education and lifelong learning. Whilst it will demonstrate that its continuous education programmes have had a beneficial impact on its economic performance, the more significant findings and implications for practitioners who are considering the leap from public sector to social enterprise will be in relation to the structural, cultural and attitudinal changes took place during the company’s set up and establishment phases.

The changes that this company went through involved challenges on many practical and theoretical fronts: personal, social, political, artistic, and educational. Orthodoxies such as ‘The Business Plan’; ‘The Bottom Line’; ‘The Job’ all came under scrutiny in the company’s early years and the results of this scrutinisation are tangible in the company’s existence and will be drawn out through this blog.

The paper concludes with four specific transformations the company has undergone since its inception which have contributed to strengthening the linkage between its education programmes and its economic performance. These transformations are not however offered as a potential ‘toolkit’ for future social enterprise development but as the provisional and partial results of an retrospective analysis of the company’s birth and growth.

The paper will continue to develop here until its presentation at ISBE, Sheffield in November.

Tips for Business Start Ups: how to avoid getting in your own way

If we’re trying to develop a policy, business, project or whatever – the process of determining the changes you want to make might appear simple enough until you realise there are various trade offs to be accommodated; creativity or standards for example? Compliance or independence? Responding to policies which say ‘turn left’ coupled to others that demand ‘turn right’: sometimes, legitimately, both at the same time.

Organisational growth is in one sense a mirage of a mechanistic process which suggests growth is simply a matter of increased turnover, more staff, more premises, more profits and that these things arrive in good mechanistic ways which are based on the principle that if I do ‘X’ then this will cause ‘Y’ and that if we behave in a certain way then we will be due – or we will deserve – the consequences.

But the environment we work in isn’t like that at all. It’s far more complex and indeterminable than those assumptions allow for. If we follow the mechanistic logic of following policy, guidelines and so-called best practice – then all to often we will get in our own way and end up contradicting the very steps we want to take.
One model for new businesses is to avoid the notion of the Business Plan like the plague – but opt for Emergent Responsiveness strategies instead, meaning that instead of following a plan – which can be built upon contradictory policies and calls to action – that we respond to the business moment, the glimpses of opportunities and the acceptance of serendipity in the business growth process.

It’s Conference Season! How to avoid the worst of conferences

Its that time of year again!  Time to pack our bags, brush up our papers, remember how to work powerpoint remotely and steel ourselves for mass produced sandwiches in ecologically friendly cardboard boxes.  Yes, the joys of the conference and all it entails.

i’m really looking forward to conferences that don’t build on their content, aren’t a mix of practical and theoretical, are technologically unreliable, are unrigorous, provide a platform for the wrong kind of speakers, aren’t chaired well, don’t offer chances for dialogue, have the same old same old people on the panels and  provide too many spaces for axe grinding: and particularly those educational conferences which have little in the way of artistry and preach the educational message in an utterly non-educational manner.  Conferences with a pay-bar on the opening night are also low on the list.

But hope springs eternal and i’m looking forward to a better experience of meeting old colleagues, making new friends and confering – the whole point of the conference experience of course.  As Mohammed Arif said at our first All Our Futures conference, I came to England alone; and leave the conference with new friends’. So here’s to new friends, new ideas, new challenges and with any luck, new solutions to feeding the conference frenzied masses.

If you’re at BERA at the Institute of Education, London next week, the Transformative Difference Conference at Liverpool Hope University the week after, the PASCO Conference in Belgrade next month or the ISBE (Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurialship) Conference the month after, please feel free to come and strike up a conversation.  Who knows, we might have some ideas on what constitutes the best of conferences!