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Dai Powell's blog

Dai Powell is HCT Group's Chief executive. His blog explores ideas on social enterprise, transport and related issues. Always forthright, Dai’s views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the position of HCT Group.


Partnership – the tipping point

Posted: 06 Sep 2019

We’re almost there. Over the past twenty or more years, we have been talking and writing, persuading and cajoling, listening and developing, all with one aim – to create an environment where social enterprises and commissioners can form abiding partnerships and innovate together, making a real difference in our communities.

It’s been a long road, but the building blocks are all in place.

Social enterprises have shown that they can operate at the kind of scale needed to provide services and that they have a mastery of their trades, delivering at a high quality. From transport to early years, from leisure to healthcare, there are thriving social enterprises ready to take on these challenges. All the old questions on scale and quality are pretty much answered.  

Social enterprises have also demonstrated that they can help to tackle some of society’s most pressing questions – providing public services designed to maximise public benefit not private profit. The debate on whether social enterprises provide meaningful additionality is by-and-large settled.

It the same story on all of the old topics – from social enterprise’s ability to innovate to the benefits of partnering with organisations that share values with commissioners – we all have a good understanding of how this works. We’ve even gotten elbow-deep in procurement law to identify the best methods to commission social enterprises.

If we all agree that this is a good idea, then why are great partnerships between commissioners and social enterprises so rare? I think the answer to this two-fold.  

The first barrier is entirely in our heads. We have yet to internalise the idea that we can just get on and do this now. We can choose to partner, to innovate and to tackle real social issues. We just have to decide.

The second barrier is also about mind-set. Commissioners have, too often, spent their time in supplier relationships that are at least partly adversarial. It’s hard to let that mindset go. And yet, all the best work we do is with commissioners who want a different type of relationship, a relationship built on shared values – real partnerships.  

These partnerships aren’t naïve. The commissioners have articulated what they want – trust, shared objectives, joint problem solving – and put in place the practical tools to make that work. These practicalities include obvious things like open book and real-time open data, but also have included the hard work to align the incentives of the commissioner and the commissioned – so methods like gain share really come to the fore. They also recognise the role of scale, scope and time – each of which is needed to get any serious change done.

If there are practical steps to commission even the most abstract of ideas, we must be at the point – perhaps the tipping point – where everything is in place for commissioning for partnerships to become standard. All we need to do is choose.  


This blog was first published on the E3M website 


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