By Stephen Miller, Power to Change.
Do community businesses make places better?
This is the question we’ve been asking ourselves for the past six years, building a world-class evidence base in the process. Because we always want to know more. We want to know how community businesses improve places, and we want to know how to best support them.
This is not a purely academic exercise either. We want to know this so other communities benefit from the community business model. So other funders, supporters, local and central government can work with community businesses too.
We want to make places better. But, we are also open to the possibility that we may not.
This is a bold thing for a funder to commit to – the possibility that there may be no, or even a negative, impact from their work. But this is the spirit with which Power to Change has engaged with research from the start, investing 5% of its endowment into establishing a Research Institute.
When Richard Harries set up the Research Institute as its founding director, we challenged him to do things differently. That meant bringing academic rigour to our research and evaluation. And it meant introducing new methods and approaches that went beyond case studies and return on investment ratios.
Whilst these things are still important, he sought to tackle the perceived ‘fluffiness’ of communities research, whilst avoiding becoming “a branch of Power to Change’s marketing division.” No small undertaking, but one that has been successfully delivered.
So much so that we have now formally closed the Research Institute as a separate entity, and transferred its entire evidence base to the Institute for Community Studies (ICS).
Launching today, the ICS will host a curated collection of research reports, case studies and other publications from the Research Institute alongside those of others. In-depth qualitative and ethnographic studies sit alongside statistical papers deploying counterfactuals, making this the most diverse and comprehensive source of evidence about community businesses that has ever existed.
Richard will continue to steward this evidence base in his new role as associate Director at ICS, and we encourage you to explore and use this evidence in your own work.
Power to Change will continue to conduct and commission research and evaluation, and as the new director of impact and learning, I have been given the challenge of putting this insight into action. This includes leading our work to use learning and evidence to develop the sector to recover, grow and deepen its impact.
We have already shown what we can do through our serious long-term commitment to research and evaluation. I look forward to continuing the journey and working alongside the ICS to seize this new opportunity for doing community research better.