The Impact of Technology Adoption on Scottish Social Enterprises’ Operation

The Impact of Technology Adoption on Scottish Social Enterprises’ Operation

By Jane Mackinnon
10 June 2024

The third sector faces significant challenges in adopting technology. 

The potential benefits of digital transformation are huge, from streamlining processes to upskilling staff and making a greater impact on the communities we serve. In this current time of significant challenge for the third sector, with cost escalation, increased demand on services and funding constraints, digitisation is one key solution to the issue of long term sustainability. 

The solution is complex. 

There is undoubtedly a lack of direct grant funding available to enhance digital infrastructure and fully embrace the change needed, which in itself is a significant barrier to progress. 

We have a skilled network of support providers and intermediary organisations that offer advice in various formats, including webinars, training sessions and in person events. We have funded programmes offering 1-1 support and volunteers who are dedicating their digital expertise. All of which contribute to an already existing support infrastructure. 

However, the fact remains that there are still many organisations and groups grappling with setting up a fundamental tech infrastructure. 

How do we improve connections in our tech support ecosystem and build on our collective capabilities?

Han Ju (Emma) Yang, is doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, her research explores the opportunities and barriers that Social Enterprises encounter when engaging with technologies. 

Before starting her PhD, Emma worked in digital consulting at IBM and KPMG, gaining first-hand experience of the impact that technology can have on organisations. This experience fuels her passion to unlock the potential of technology to help various types of organisations flourish.

Her research focuses on two main questions:

1. How can we amplify the social impact of social enterprises?

2. What role can technology play in enhancing this impact?

To answer these questions, she first conducted a survey to understand how social enterprises interact with technology, identifying the benefits and barriers to further technology adoption. This will be followed by a second phase of research focusing on two specific social enterprises to deepen the understanding.

The survey was shared with the support of the following intermediary organisations: Social Enterprise Scotland, Scottish Tech Army, Community Enterprise, Firstport, Social Enterprise Academy, Community Enterprise in Scotland and Inspiring Scotland.

We recently met with Emma to discuss the response, the recommendations and what happens in the next phase of her research.

Why is this research important?

'This research is important for two main reasons:

1. Identify technology for social good: technology is essential for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of delivering social missions, which are central to social enterprises. However, because social enterprises prioritise social outcomes, technology adoption must be approached differently from that in commercial organisations. Understanding how social enterprises interact with technology can help design tech solutions that genuinely serve the social good.

2. Build collective capabilities: technology adoption can be daunting. Through this research, we can build collective capabilities within the social enterprise sector, demystifying technology adoption and ensuring it is incorporated in a beneficial way.'

What are the possible real-world applications?

'There are two key applications:

1. Leading the way in 'Tech for Good': social enterprises, which are at the forefront of achieving a wellbeing economy, can also lead in defining 'tech for good'. This means contributing to technology design that responds to social needs and using it ethically to benefit a broad range of stakeholders.

2. Building capabilities for an iterative tech adoption journey: technology adoption requires specific capabilities and resources. This research can identify these core elements, helping to build an ecosystem that supports social enterprises in making informed decisions about technology adoption. Additionally, it can provide support when technology adoption does not go as planned, recognising that this process is a journey rather than an overnight success.'

What kind of response have you gotten to your research/findings?

'The survey revealed three critical insights:

1. Tech adoption surge: there is a growing demand for technology adoption among social enterprises, with 68% reporting they adopted new technology in 2021 and 2022.

2. Working alone: despite this demand, technology adoption remains confusing and challenging, as 67% of social enterprises navigate this journey alone. This highlights the need for support from similar social enterprises and intermediary organisations.

3. Positive feedback: 94% of social enterprises found technology adoption beneficial and would recommend it to their peers. The message is clear: technology adoption is in demand, and more collective effort is needed to prepare social enterprises for this journey.'

What happens next in the phase of your research?

'In the second phase of my research, I am seeking out two social enterprises that:

Have adopted technology in their service delivery, or

Technology plays a critical role in their operation

The second phase will compose the following elements:

1. In-depth interviews: I will be conducting in-depth interviews to explore how technology is shaping social enterprises' ability to achieve their social missions and create meaningful impacts. The insights gained will not only advance our understanding of technology's role in the social enterprise sector but also provide valuable lessons and best practices for others in the field.

2. A collaborative journey: each interview will be a collaborative exploration, lasting approximately 1 to 1.5 hours, and involving five to ten staff members from the organisation. Social enterprises’ participation will help shape the future of technology adoption in the social enterprise sector.

3. Starting this autumn: the interviews are scheduled to commence this September.'

If you are interested in participating or want more information, please reach out via email at Han-Ju.Yang@ed.ac.uk

Read the full report.

We believe that this research is vital in shining a light on the importance of digital in enhancing the work of the third sector. Breeze are committed to delivering support and working cross organisationally to build on the intelligence within the report. 

Please get in touch with jane@breezedigital.uk if this resonates for you.

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