Transcript - Dr Chris Mason's webinar: Social Enterprise Reporting Tool (SERT)

OK, good afternoon, everyone. My name's Chris Mason, and for the next 25, 30 minutes I'll be providing a second Centre for Social Impact Swinburne webinar for 2018. Just a little bit of housekeeping before we start, I just want to make sure that everyone can hear me OK. Only other things are that obviously in the invite we asked if you could just make sure that any questions and so on, we'll probably put those through the chat once I've finished the presentation. And that probably means I can add some more before the end of our time. And the other thing I should probably mention is that I've got too much to say. So this probably means that I'll be talking way beyond the time we've allotted. So if you need to duck out before the end, that's obviously fine. And we're recording the session, so you'll be able to catch up at a later time and date.

So we'll kick this off. So the social enterprise reporting tool emerged from a research project. So obviously at CSI Swinburne, we're a research centre based at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. And the key part of developing SERT was that it was driven by a longitudinal study of social enterprises in WA, Western Australia.

And one of the things that we found over the time that we've been working with these social enterprises was that although they have a lot going for them, and a lot of motivation, and have numerous success, they do lack some of the key aspects that successful or sustainable businesses have. And that, in one way, was about systems and developing the right kind of systems to build a viable business over time. And many of the challenges that the social enterprises faced could have been overcome by developing a relatively simple system. And so this is one outcome of our research project.

Why reporting? Well, there were several, if you like, systemic things that came out of the research project itself, but the main one was that in terms of businesses being able to collect data about their performance and turn that into something purposeful through their decision making, if you could find that sort of system, then this would resolve a lot of those problems. So we decided to have a really good go at understanding this reporting and go more deeply.

And once we developed the tool, we figured out that actually there wasn't an awful lot going on around the social enterprise space that was developing the sorts of systems needed to support social enterprises. And that was three, 3 and 1/2 years ago, and obviously a lot changes in that time. But we've been developing it to support social enterprises, give them a free, robust, secure system that is simple to use. It allows social enterprises to enter their data, to store that data securely, and do so from multiple reporting years. So in a very basic level, you're able to simply and effectively have a look at how your business is faring over time.

In relation to who's it for, we found that it's probably most useful for small to medium sized social enterprises or startup social enterprises. The cost of acquiring and implementing a system for business use can be quite costly, and/or they're not always tailored for specific social enterprise needs. So we had a really good sense of how it could add value for social enterprises because we built it with and for social enterprises.

Why would someone use it? Because it's a very simple tool to use. It does what it's intended to do, and our key aim in developing the tool was not to make a competitive tool. So we exist to create public value. So we didn't begin or proceed with the idea that what we were going to make would be completely unique to the world and that no other organization or business would be able to develop something similar or, indeed, better. Our goal as a centre was to develop something that really reignites the conversation around why systems are so needed for social enterprise and what we might be able to do even if we had a moderate amount of data to support the reason why we would develop that tool. So there's a little bit of background about SERT.

So what's gone into it? Quite a lot of time and effort has gone into this tool, as I said at the start. It was an emergent project that came out of a much bigger project we were running in WA. And as you can see, quite a lot of time has gone into that, and quite a lot of people have been involved. And I would flag that since this was a university project, we've involved honor students, semester students, and we've had a whole lot of research assistants and PhD students. Our colleagues at CSI pitching in, we've had information systems professors, accounting professors. Pretty much you name it, we've got people involved. And one thing that unites all those people whatever level of the university is their enthusiasm about the premise of SERT, that you could produce something that is informed by research, that provide something effectively simple for people to use, it's reliable, and it's free. And it's something we found really resonates with people over time.

How did we develop it? It was a very long process, as you'd appreciate. We began with a bit of a review of existing tools, and a review of existing research, and really tried to ground the idea in some really solid knowledge and practice, too. Then over the course of the project, we walked alongside 10 social enterprises. And we're really interested in understanding their practices, and also get some feedback on the idea of a system that we could develop. So we engaged users at the heart of the design process.

And then through that, we consulted and developed prototypes at multiple occasions, as you would imagine. And that involved a lot of dialogue about not just the features that it should have, because obviously one of the aims was to keep everything very simple, but it was also about making sure that all stakeholders who would find that tool useful had a chance to give us information about how that tool could be developed and improved.

So for example, the research project that was funded to develop the research program-- and of course, SERT came from that-- the funder was the Bankwest Foundation based in Perth. So we had financiers interested from the start, and we were able to get people around the table when we were developing the system to give us a different perspective. So obviously we got a lot of knowledge from the social enterprises and potential users, but we also got other potential users of the tool and its output, and the output I'll show you in a moment.

And of course, one of the issues that we're confronted with as an ecosystem for social enterprise is, well, how does a social enterprise or a social entrepreneur take information about its business and communicate that with people externally as well as people internal to the business? How do they convey what that business is about and about the obviously the primary social mission? So we had a lot of input to help us design and guide the principles behind SERT, and it was a deliberate process. It took a long time, and it's only now in the last week that we've got to a point where we felt ready to launch. And that's pretty much the stage we're at now.

So I've given you a very brief sort of overview of the kinds of needs that underpin the design, and I've talked about social enterprise, and I've indicated financial institutions are important, too. And I think that the bit that tends to get missed off is the role of philanthropic funders, too. Because in terms of deepening the impact of the social enterprise movement anywhere, but in this case in Australia, we need to be able to connect those different parts of the ecosystem and understand in the case of philanthropy their interest is in the wider impacts of social enterprise and the sorts of impacts that they can make.

So at a very micro, close level to the organization, if you're developing a system that helps to promote resilience-- not necessary to deliver resilience in sustainable businesses-- there's a good chance that that can lead to wider impacts and deeper impacts because the social enterprises are embedding the right sorts of business practices to keep them going and making an impact for longer. So of course, philanthropy have an interest because this serves the broader aims of tackling some of the biggest social and economic inequities in this country.

So as I've mentioned, one of the principal features of SERT was to make it secure. So throughout the process we've tried to ensure that the platform that SERT's built on is accessible and easy to use for us as developers, but also helps us design an intuitive user experience, as I'll show you in a second. But at the same time to make sure that all the data that's put into SERT is held securely, and as securely as possible.

So from the research perspective, we're given by research ethics protocols at the University. So from our design view, we're held to the highest account in terms of how we design SERT and our expectations of how the data will be collected and used. So we've set that out very clearly on the website and in the terms of use for anyone who signs up, so all of that information is there. 
In terms of the platform, we designed SERT on WordPress. Now, anyone who knows WordPress will know that it has its challenges with regards to security, but there are ways of making that less of an issue. So we've worked very closely with web developers to use plugins such as word vents that make it very, very secure. And that is a principal goal of us moving forward is to make sure that the security and integrity of the data is to the highest security standards we can.

And obviously, I've talked about making sure that SERT is useful and robust. And by robust I mean not just informed by our research, but the research of other people working in the social enterprise space. And that's something that we bring to the tool that we think is also unique. Naturally, in an environment where we're creating public value, we want to make sure that people can use it. So it's free to use, free to complete, free to access your data, and the output you get is free. So it's all free. I may have mentioned, it's free.

What sort of data do you put into SERT? A whole lot of things you can use. You might have financial reports, you might have budgets, P&L statements, information about your assets and debt, and we use that information to inform the output that we create, the statements of social performance whose intellectual property belongs to an academic we work with closely, Belinda Luke at Queensland University of Technology. She very kindly gave us her blessing in developing the statement social performance into the tool.

You may also use business data in terms of your business model information. So what business model you run. Information about the people that you employ simply in terms of numbers and how it's contributed in kind. We're interested in questions around key organizational functions like governance, and staff, and sources of support.

So at this point, we've covered the financial and business or non-financial [INAUDIBLE] I call it, and that's the core goal of SERT. It's to capture the data that the user puts in, and then the data is held on a database securely. And then that is yours. It's not ours. And you can access that data and do whatever you like with it. You can add more data to it, you can enter other records, and you can use it over time to compare how you're going.

And you'll notice in the walkthrough I'm about to give you that the second goal of SERT is not just about producing a report and looking at financial and non-financial reporting, actually about an educational and development aspect, too. And that's where we see the questions around governance and questions around mission popping up. So I just wanted to make that clear.

And lastly, we're interested in some social data, but we draw a very solid line between reporting on the business performance and reporting on social impact. And there are good reasons for that. The main one is that this is not a tool that's designed to collect and portray social impact data. It's very specifically about reporting. Our other tools under development, such as the social enterprise impact lab, which is led by Professor Jo Barraket at CSI Swinburne, which is a complementary tool that will go much deeper and provide much more profound insights into the social impact element of social enterprises business. So the very clear demarcation between the two.

All right, so I've pre-recorded a walkthrough which I will take you through, and this is the site. So I'm going to show you what it's all about and take you on a very quick tour of its various features. So you can see its design, it's had three iterations, the website, and it's largely the same structure. But over time we've actually just made it look nicer and a lot more pleasant to use.

So you can see our logo there in the top left hand corner, which is nice and clear. We have different features of the website that flicked through in front of you, and you can click on those various bits, and it will scroll you down. So if you just scroll down the website on the main page, you can get some more information, you can start the survey, you logged in, you can have a click and see a very large example of the statement social performance. So that's on the landing page if you like. And you can have a look at the two sides of that page.

We give you some info on the very front page about how long it probably will take to fill out the form. The first time you fill it out, it took me between 45 and 50 minutes with full information. And that came through with our user testing, too. So every time you fill it out, it actually gets a lot quicker, as you would imagine. And you've got a bit of pre completion homework to do there with getting hold of the record, and staff and volunteer numbers, and information about your business plans, and so on.

And then once you've read all that and you're happy, you can always start the survey. However, I don't start survey, I take you back to the top. We have a look at the menu. Again, we've designed it to be relatively simple and intuitive. If you want to learn more about the projects and the people involved, there's an About Us. I've compiled a huge list of thank you's which we might have a look at now.

So it's simple. Click on, click through. And if you've got more questions, I've probably not covered off on all of them, but most of them are covered there. Some information about your data, how do you delete your account. No one would want to do that hopefully. More information about what happens if you're based outside Australia. Quite a lot of interest from overseas. And of course, anyone can use SERT, but it's been designed with Australian financial regulations and accounting standards in mind. And basically, this should cover off on any questions you have. But if you've still got more, you can always contact us.

A new feature we've added to the site recently was synthesizing the outcomes from all of the wider research projects, the social enterprise Resilience Project we've been talking about in this webinar. So this part of the site is trying to make the recommendations and outcomes from the entire project a lot simpler and a lot more easily communicated to anyone who's interested, and we split that down into four categories. So from the social enterprise angle, intermediaries and financiers, government and policymakers, and anyone else willing to have a go at building a reporting tool. Some lessons learned. So here you go, so here's an example, recommendations in social enterprises. Number one, not surprising to see that one. I'm really just making it clear. So all of these recommendations have come through primary data that we've collected and analyzed from an awful lot of interviews with a range of different stakeholders in the project. And we've included some very useful links just in case you want to follow up on those recommendations and learn some more.

Let me take you outside of the site. And if you want to get in touch with us, the usual rules apply. This will send a secure form through to the SERT team, and any recommendations you have of your own about the site, any feedback and questions about your account, just fire those through. And we've got a little bit of social media action going on there, too. And now I'm going to take you through the tool itself. So at long last we get there.

This is your personal landing page, if you like, for your account. You can start a new form, which is something we're going to do. You can return to your form that you've previously tried to complete, and you can also see your reports that you've completed in the past. So relatively simple interface, easy to use. And that should take you through to the start of the survey.

So again, you can see the design, really simple. At the first step is a screening page. So you will enter your organization's name in there, and that will be the name on your statement social performance. So that's a particular record for that organization. And here we're trying to figure out, do you consider yourself a social enterprise? And if you answer none of the above, none of the above, it will screen you out and say thank you, but this probably isn't at all relevant for you.

They will take you through to put in a whole load of information that you'd typically see. This is information gathered through a validated survey instrument. The instrument was originally used in Jo Barraket's work on the Finding Australia's Social Enterprise survey, so this is something that's been used at least two times and tested so we know that all the information here is stacking up. 
And this is one of only a few compulsory questions. So we want to find out not only do you consider yourself a social enterprise, but this one you have to fill out what is your mission? And that will vary, obviously, depending on what your organization is. We designed the form so it's got some little helpful pop-out tooltips, so just in case you need more clarification on what the question is actually asking you. And they're quite nicely portrayed, very simple, easy to read. A note about your beneficiaries, and also where you make your impact. So as you can see, Kicking Goals is in WA and Victoria.

And a question about your beneficiaries. So some business models obviously have beneficiaries at the heart of the business model itself, so that's a chance for you. And here is one of the educational development questions. So this won't appear in your statement of social performance, but we're interested in do you have an idea of your long term strategic goals? And if not, it's a good chance to have a go at drafting some.

So step three is all about financial performance. So looking for that data that I mentioned in the previous slide, you might need a bit more information on the kinds of accounting, you might need a bit more information on the reporting periods by financial year, by calendar year. Just make sure it's got the right year on that. And for the next part, for income and expenditure, we've got the totals you will probably have already collected in the homework section. So as you can see, I'm just filling out some numbers in each of the categories here. Got some grants from government going in there.

And for those sections that you have nothing to add, you can either leave them blank or type 0 and that won't get entered, just like that. And as you'll see, that's automatically calculated for you. So give you a high level view of your income. And the same is true for your expenditure. So up in the usual categories here, salaries and wages, operating costs, any professional services you might have used throughout the year, and so on and so forth. So these are standard categories that you would expect to see when you're talking about your business income and expenditure. It totals that up for you and then gives you an idea of your profit, or surplus, or loss for the reporting period. So as you can see, kicking goals made a decent amount of surplus.

Some other questions we ask you of your business. So any information you might have about your business' assets, again, to get a very good idea of have you got an estimation of how much those assets are worth? Did you get any finance externally, and have you access to any debt finance? Well, obviously in this example we do.

And now some of those non-financial inputs. So anything around full time workers, how money paid part time workers, casuals, volunteers. And I think one of the key aspects for many social enterprises is an idea of how many in kind hours you receive. And that is a very tricky one to sometimes estimate, but it's also a good practice to be able to think about that on a regular basis not just for the amount of hours you put in that box there, but also an idea of who that's coming from. It probably will be very helpful when thinking back to that box around strategy and who those key organizations or individuals are.

Now, we've designed the form again to make it as simple as possible, and here's a yes-no. If you click no, you don't want to include any information on this, you can actually scoot through to a much later part of the survey. But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to click Yes. And the magic happens. So we fall out to outputs and outcomes. So as I mentioned before, there's a very light touch on social impact outputs and outcomes in this tool, and that's for good reason. But just for the purposes of SERT, we want people to start thinking about the kinds of outputs that matter or that could matter, and we've just given one example here of the number of beneficiaries employed. And you can put in the relation of that to your main aims.

And outcomes from your reporting period. Again, I've given you an example here in the tooltip. And it gets you thinking about the kinds of outcomes that matter towards your strategic objectives as you've defined them earlier in the form. And some more yes/no questions you might want to take note here. If you don't want to write about your governance, put a yes. And it's, again, more information about reflective thinking, obviously about thinking about your board, generally what skills and expertise are on that board. Then a question around diversity. And diversity is a key factor for all boards in corporate governance.

You can click yes/no on business practices. If you want to click No, that will, again, take you further on the form. And once again, this is more about thinking have I gone through budget forecasting? And if not, I need to think more about what that actually is and whether that's going to be useful to me and my business. The role of professional networks as part of my regular business activities, and obviously the importance of that is very well known. So just sitting and reflecting on that.

And one of the earlier questions around expenditure related to professional services. So here is a chance to actually mark down a record of the kinds of professional services you've engaged with in the past reporting period. So as you can see, there's not much action going on with the ATO there, but we've had a fair amount to do with small business agencies, and intermediaries, and universities. So it's been a very busy year for this case study, which is an invented case study.

In the next section, we're then drilling down into strategy. So very simple, not looking for a lot of qualitative information here. Did you improve your goods for business development? Did you improve services of beneficiaries' needs? Very simply gives you an overview of what you've been up to and whether you've actually changed things during the year. And it may well be that you didn't. But it will get you thinking about the future risks and opportunities.

So as you proceed through this step, you might find that there are a few major risks that are top of mind for your social enterprise. So you probably want to note that is down there. And also, an action oriented question, and it's the same for the major opportunities, too. So one thing to identify risks and opportunities, but a much more substantial aspect is what are you going to do about it. So we obviously put that in there. And ruling out the social impact objectives, too, will lead you to the penultimate step. So as you can see, I've filled this out before, and we've got a summary of everything that's gone into that record.

Now, this is good for you to check because you might find, well, my income's not quite right there, so I'll probably need to go back and change that, which you can do. Click back through the steps, change it, click back through the form either way, and have another look at your summary. And then you'll feel that it's as complete as you can get it.

And this starts getting us nearer to the visualization for your particular record. So you can upload a logo to your statement of social performance if you so choose, and that will go onto the server, and it will populate onto the PDF. You click Submit, and it's gone into the server. It's all happening. Congratulations. Now, how do you actually view the report? Well, go through to any tab. As you can see, this is my record. View PDF. That populates it for you. So I haven't uploaded logos in this example. And if I did, it would appear in the top left hand corner of that. So it takes some of the information you've popped in, and then it does some very rudimentary and simple but useful visualizations for you, some simple graphs.

So from what we determine, this is as much use internally to decision making and thinking about what's happened in a previous reporting period in the business as it is externally if you wanted to take the statement of social performance along to external parties and show them this is how we've been faring in a very simple and professional way. So it's a good conversation starter if you are asked beyond your mission, which is the principal aim of social enterprise, of course. To talk about the guts of the business and how you've been going.

All right, so I'll wrap that up there. We've got one minute left for questions, which doesn't seem very fair. So I'll invite anyone who's still online, if you want to fire me some questions via the chat, that might make it easier for me to respond to everyone in the time we have left. And I'm willing to hang on for another 10 minutes in case there are lots of questions. So really, it's up to you, and thanks for your time.