Measuring the ‘good’ of social enterprise: a historical perspective…

Tackling inequalities in health remains one of the greatest challenges facing Scotland today. The gap between ‘good’ and ‘poor’ health is pervasive and increasing. As part of the programme to tackle these inequalities, it is important to explore more ‘upstream’ community-based initiatives to improve health. It has been suggested that social enterprise could be an effective model through which these social determinants of health could potentially be tackled.

The Common Health project aims to develop new methods through which health and wellbeing impacts of social enterprise organisations can be measured and better understood. This project is made up of a multi-disciplinary team from GCU as well as colleagues from Stirling, Glasgow, Highlands & Islands, Robert Gordon and Stirling Universities.

This programme of work is broken down into eight discrete projects; from historical and contemporary overviews of the social enterprise sector to a number of individual case studies of social enterprise organisations across Scotland. The first project, managed and undertaken by Dr Gillian Murray, centres on how social enterprises have been linked to health and wellbeing between the 1970’s to 2010 – what has affectionately been dubbed as ‘the history project’.

Gill’s work began in March 2014 and aims to conclude at the end of 2016. During this time, one of the overall goals is to contextual the CommonHealth programme within its historical context in Scotland.  It is, she tells us, vitally important to include this angle within the research programme as a whole – as only by understanding how social enterprise may have been linked to health and wellbeing in the past can we gain a true picture of its current relationship with these concepts. She will be asking questions such as: ‘how has success been defined and outcomes measured by social enterprises in this period of study?’ and ‘what missions have been stated by social enterprises and how do they relate to notions of health and well-being?’

Gill's archivesThe project will also be the first to delve into the archives of the Social Enterprise Collection (Scotland) and will combine this research with oral history interviews. Part of Gill’s time will also be spent developing and growing the archival collection and, along with her fellow researchers, she will be managing a weekly blog that is hoped will help break down barriers between research and practise.

The blog, CommonHealth Researchers, is designed to “share the research process and articulate what we’re going through on a day to day basis”, Gill explains. “We all come at it from different perspectives; we have an anthropologist, a historian, as well as researchers undertaking an arts-based project, a contemporary overview of the social enterprise sector and a few other projects just coming on-stream in the next few weeks. Hopefully through the blog we can de-mystify some of what we do and make it that much more accessible to the wider public as well actors within the social enterprise sector.”

This notion of knowledge sharing appears to be integral to the overall programme, with the blog, website and various social media sites forming just one part of this strategy. Earlier this month, GCU hosted the CommonHealth Knowledge Exchange Forum, an event held every quarter to build the links between higher education research and third sector practitioners. A full reflection on this event can be found in the latest edition of the CommonHealth blog.

Gill’s project, number one of eight, aims to help build the evidence-base for social enterprise as a public health initiative, a task which she herself recognises as “quite a challenge”. Over the next few months we will aim to introduce the rest of the CommonHealth researchers and keep up to date with the on-going research being undertaken by this programme.

Many thanks to Dr Gillian Murray for telling us a little about the work she’s involved in and helping to make the mysterious ‘archives’ slightly less mysterious!

For more information on the CommonHealth programme and upcoming Knowledge Exchange Forums please see their website. You can also follow the day to day trials and tribulations of the CommonHealth researchers on their blog and through Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *