The changing face of social enterprise — Inside Outcomes

Inside Outcomes began life as a private consultancy, owned by Darren Wright, offering client-management software solutions along with support and training for organisations looking for ways to record and demonstrate the improved outcomes their clients achieved from the services they accessed.

Over several years the company developed a measuring methodology based on combining all key national outcomes frameworks — including NHS, Social Care, Public Health, Social Justice, NICE Guidance and others — into a single database and then aligning these key outcomes to common issues that clients present with. This enables organisations to track the outcomes their services achieve — even if they are unaware of the relevant national service indicators. “The example I tend to use,” Darren Wright says, “is that if your organisation can get someone out of temporary housing, we can show you precisely how this relates to the Public Health Outcomes Framework.”

Client-management software was then designed that enabled a whole-person assessment of the service-users involved, so that all of the often inter-related issues a client might face could be accounted for. The method is intended to enable organisations to provide a better evidence-based account of social outcomes and to demonstrate the impact of inter-related services.

Darren Wright, Director, Inside Outcomes CIC

Initially, Inside Outcomes was seeking to commercialise this software but over the course of several years came to the conclusion that there were other — and better — ways to promote its adoption. The interest of this particular story lies in the route that Inside Outcomes has chosen to try and address the problem. It became a social enterprise, incorporating as a new Community Interest Company just a few months ago.

The enterprise says that this has enabled it to adopt a fundamentally different business model — and one it believes will be beneficial to users while also giving greater numbers of users the confidence to adopt the software.

There are significant obstacles to organisations adopting client-management and outcomes measurement software. Cost is a major disincentive. Many proprietary systems are substantially over-priced when compared with other types of software and not all organisations can meet these costs. Selection is also an issue. Many organisations struggle to understand whether they are buying into the system that is best for them and the services they provide. Confidence too is a major problem: what happens if a provider retires a proprietary system or goes bust?

Under this new social enterprise model, Inside Outcomes has made its software Open Source. Darren Wright explains why: “I believe that social enterprises, the voluntary sector and health more generally needs to embrace open source technology. Too many systems are being developed in isolation and the organisations using them suffer from a lack of resilience. Open Source software means that any developers can integrate different systems and the free availability of the software removes concerns that users of proprietary software may be left high and dry if a company goes bust.”

Inside Outcomes realised that it had two assets that were of community value. “We had a unique outcome methodology,” says Darren, “and software to deliver it. By taking on the CIC form we aimed to lock those assets for community benefit, both in providing the software under an Open License and being transparent in the way we deliver support to organisations.”

While continuing to offer the Open Source software free of charge, the enterprise plans to generate revenue from providing training, software customisation, and technical support such as cloud-based hosting.

“In essence,” Darren says, “we’re looking to provide civic technology for health and wellbeing in much the same way that MySociety provides civic technology for democratic empowerment — getting as close to free as possible whilst maintaining a viable business.”

The next stage in this transition to a social enterprise model, according to Inside Outcomes, is to get users of the system to help develop a standardised list of codes that relate to social policy. That will allow the company to help organisations aggregate data and better understand patterns of need, service demand and outcomes. The more users there are, the greater power of the aggregated data.

Using the Open Source software as a basis, Inside Outcomes reckons it can set new users up with customised software and shared server facilities for around £1500.00 a year — significantly cheaper, it believes, than options based on ‘closed’ proprietary systems and independent hosting and server arrangements. In the longer term, the company hopes it will also be able to provide system set-ups for free to some users or sectors as part of its social mission.

Inside Outcomes is keen to talk to any organisations that are interested in improving the way they gather evidence and the uses they are able to make of it. “We can provide software to do this,” says Darren Wright, “but we also bring many years of experience of commissioning and running services to the table as well.”

Inside Outcomes: Darren Wright, director, 0121 288 7487 and 07971594924
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Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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