Large charities should 'scale up' the innovations of smaller organisations, report says

Ruth Marvel, co-author of the report When Bees Meet Trees, says that larger organisations that develop external ideas could improve their own effectiveness

Ruth Marvel
Ruth Marvel

Large charities and housing organisations can develop social innovation and improve their effectiveness by working to "scale up" the innovations of smaller organisations and individuals, new research concludes.

The report, When Bees Meet Trees, by Owen Jarvis and Ruth Marvel, fellows of the Clore Social Leadership Programme, says that large charities and housing associations have many qualities that enable them to develop social innovations but that capacity "is overlooked and under-used".

The report questions why large organisations, "the trees", which often struggle to innovate, do not join forces more often with small organisations, "the bees", which can be good at innovating but lack reach.

In order to help increase the reach and effectiveness of social innovations, large organisations, which are defined as those with annual turnovers of £5m and above, should use their existing resources such as customer base, reputation, and financial resources, to scale up innovations developed by smaller organisations or individuals, the report says.

Alternatively, larger organisations could act as brokers, seeking out innovations and making them available to other organisations, policy-makers and funders, or as "institutional entrepreneurs" to create an environment, through policy or cultural change, in which social innovations can succeed, it says.

"Large charities and housing associations need to look outside for new innovations and ideas, recognise they can add more value to social innovation as scale partners, brokers and institutional entrepreneurs, and reconfigure themselves to play these roles," says the report.  

Research carried out for the report included interviews with 31 senior staff from social sector organisations and a review of literature in the area. 

Marvel, who is also director of policy and campaigns at Scope, said the report challenged large charities and housing authorities to rethink the way they look at innovation.

She said that by helping to develop ideas from outside an organisation, large charities could improve their own effectiveness. 

"It’s about asking how you use the assets that you do have most effectively," she said. "Looking externally and looking to support a new idea is a much better use of those resources."

She said that the government and organisations involved supporting social innovation also needed to do more to involve large charities and housing associations in their work.

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