The Department of Employment and Social Development Canada launched its Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy Steering Group. This is an exciting time for the sector, as the group gears up for a year of consultation and planning for what will eventually be a national strategy.
Social enterprise is, of course, a hot-button issue for the sector. It’s complex and perhaps a bit contentious, intimidating and where policy is concerned, a tad impenetrable. Luckily, Canada is home to some valuable precedence. The province of Nova Scotia has undergone a fascinating and successful co-creation process that has been hailed nationally for its inclusive approach, one that focused on practitioners, and making room for their voices in the process. Common Good Solutions (CGS), a Nova Scotia-based social enterprise, and secretariat for the Social Enterprise Network of Nova Scotia, was central to this process. Here, CGS co-founder and lead facilitator, Andy Horsnell, offers some lessons learned from their experience.
A Little Background…
On April 2017, the Government of Nova Scotia released its Framework for Advancing Social Enterprise, outlining the “priorities and actions we will take in the coming years to create a thriving, sustainable social enterprise sector”. This Framework, created in partnership with the Social Enterprise Network of Nova Scotia, was a remarkable co-creation of over 20 provincial departments and sector organizations.
As you can see, the final Framework document and approach is built around the “Six Policy Pillars” which encompassed our strategy. These were originally developed by the Social Enterprise Council of Canada.
These pillars are:
- Increase enterprise capacity
- Enhance access to financing
- Expand market opportunities
- Promote and demonstrate the value of the sector
- Create an enabling policy environment
- Build a strong social enterprise network
You can read about each of these pillars in some depth in the Social Enterprise Sector Strategy 2017.
The success of this process, and of seeing this strategy through, hinged on five key elements:
- Get the right people involved
- Develop a shared understanding
- Create an opportunity for everyone to contribute
- Timing is everything
- A genuine partnership is critical
Below, I briefly explain each of these elements.
1. Get the Right People Involved
Working with Kent Roberts, a director with the Department of Business, we identified a broad cross-section of stakeholders, drawn from the public and social enterprise sector. We took care to focus on enlisting people who were both close to the action, where the day-to-day decisions get made, and who were in a position to exert some influence on those decisions. This resulted in securing public sector and social enterprise representatives from over 20 organizations from across the province. While not every participant attended every working session, we ensured that we had the right people present for each discussion.
2. Develop a Shared Understanding of the Issues
In preparation for the working sessions to come, participants were provided with a comprehensive set of resources - reports, articles, etc. - to help inform them and give them all a common reference point for their discussions. Our researchers compiled relevant documentation on each of the Social Enterprise Council of Canada’s “Six Policy Pillars” – those listed above, which are again: capacity building, access to finance, market development, enabling regulations, demonstrating value, and network development – into a binder that every participant received in advance of the first working session.
3. Create an Opportunity for Everyone to Contribute
Participants were brought together for three, half-day workings sessions, which were facilitated by Common Good Solutions to ensure things moved along, and that everyone had an equal opportunity to participate as a peer. Frank discussion was used to air different perspectives; “dotmocracy” was used to define the group’s consensus. An outside observer would have had difficulty knowing who was the new social entrepreneur and who was the senior director. This resulted in great, innovative ideas coming from all the participants.
4. Timing is Everything
The process played out over a time frame that allowed for reflection, but not so long as to feel drawn out. Working sessions were spaced out over three weeks, one per week, which gave participants time to read up and prepare, and to reflect on the preceding session. But this was not so long as to lose the thread of the discussion from session to session.
5. A Genuine Partnership is Critical
Finally, this process would simply not have been possible without the close and collaborative working relationship between the Social Enterprise Network of Nova Scotia, representing the sector, and the Department of Business, representing the Provincial government. Each player helped the other to navigate their respective context, and to find the areas of overlapping priority and interest. This collaboration has continued on into the implementation of the Framework, which will be ongoing over the next 3-5 years.
Throughout this process, people remarked that it felt different from other consultations – more open, real, and grounded in what was possible. I think we all had a sense that this was an opportunity not to be missed and, thankfully, it all came together. Could this process be replicated elsewhere in Canada? We hope that it will. By following these five simple steps, I think there would be a good chance of success.
Andy Horsnell has worked in social enterprise throughout the USA and Canada for over 25 years, as a consultant, manager, and board member. He came home in 2010 and co-founded CGS in 2012, with the goal of transforming the role that business plays in creating thriving, prosperous communities.