Finding an Audience: Turning Cheerleaders into Practitioners

Finding an Audience: Turning Cheerleaders into Practitioners

I attend many events focused on the social innovation/social enterprise sector, and by and large they fall into two categories: cheerleading and practitioner events.

Cheerleading events try to attract new people to the sector – practitioners of SI/SE are clearly delineated from “audience” members, and the main goal is to stimulate ideas and passion in the attendees. Practitioner events are where most of the attendees – most of the attendees, presenters and facilitators are people working in, for, or adjacent to social value creation as their full time focus.

Both types of events certainly have a role in growing and advancing the sector, but each have their flaws. Many “cheerleading” events do little to encourage the skills development that would allow attendees to transition from “audience” to “practitioners.” Further, by predominantly serving as cheerleaders at these events, practitioners often miss opportunities to collaborate, co-learn and co-create as practitioners of the same field. I’m left to ask: what would it take to turn a member of the “audience” into a skillful practitioner, and how can we encourage meaningful interactions among practitioners at all sector events?

1. More investment in professional development opportunities and skills training for people/organizations new to the sector.
Social innovation and social enterprise are a practice – the more you do it, the better you get. However, many funding opportunities, and often event spaces to attend conferences and seminars are reserved for seasoned experts. This can often exclude people and organizations that are new to the sector and have much to gain from the exposure, learning and networking of international and domestic events. A concerted effort to create professional development opportunities and skills development would be a first step in transitioning an “audience” member to a practitioner in the field.

2. Investment in diversity at practitioner focused events, and efforts to be inclusive of organizations without the financial means to sponsor attendance.
Particularly at regional events, it is easy to encourage a separation from the well intended yet well funded few and the under funded organizations without the resources to support participation. Usually this is no fault of conference organizers, and has more to do with the ability to procure sponsorships and financial resources and match them with organizations in need. A centrally managed pool of funding individuals or organizations could apply to for resources would be a step forward from disaggregated efforts of individual events.

3. Allow for the juxtaposition of ideal and practice
Just like the cobbler’s children having no shoes, practice within the social innovation and social enterprise sector can stray from ideals. There appears to be a disconnect between the need for and the discussion of topics such as assessment, reflection, planning, and the incorporation of failure as a mechanism for learning. Creating forums to acknowledge the roadblocks and mutual barriers faced within the sector will help both audience and practitioners deepen their ability to effectively serve in the social innovation/ social enterprise sectors.

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