We are conducting a research project looking at social innovation, how it scales and how it retains or grows its social impact. Here we look in more detail at the history of the Development Trust movement. We’re keen to get feedback on this work as it develops. Please take a look and leave a comment.

As part of our research into how different social innovations have scaled, and how this has affected their social value and impact, we are using five social innovations as case studies. They are: development trusts, community food enterprises, community HIV health services, community energy enterprises and community recycling programmes.

We have undertaken desktop research into each of these innovations, and are now conducting semi-structured interviews with key people working in each field. We are keen to hear from other people working in our case study fields, and with people engaged in social innovation in general. To facilitate this debate, we will be sharing our summaries of each innovation based on our desktop research.

The first summary tackles the history and proliferation of development trusts. Please take a look at our summary, and let us know what you think in the comments section.

A Trust for Every Neighbourhood?

Development trusts are an example of an innovation born out of ‘demand-side pull’.[1]

Early pioneers in this model, such as Coin Street Community Builders and the Westway Development Trust, were set up by groups of community activists, sometimes against the opposition of local authorities.[2] These trusts were created to use enterprise, and the ownership of buildings and land, to bring about long term social, economic and environmental benefits in their communities.[3] The development trust model has spread to communities across the UK since the 1980s. Locality, a support organisation for asset-based community enterprises (community enterprises that own and/or manage buildings and land) currently has 472 members, who they estimate own £645 million worth of assets, and generated a combined income of £317 million last year.[4]

One of the most interesting things about the development trust model from the point of view of our research is that while all development trusts share certain characteristics (namely, they are asset-based and seek to benefit their local community), the model can be flexibly applied across different assets (Lidos? Parks? Town Halls?) in very different communities. In short, while development trusts are recognisable to one another, they are not franchises, and no two will ever be the same. This type of scaling has been described in Mulgan et al.’s analytical framework as ‘uncontrolled diffusion’.[5]

In this case, it seems to have been made possible largely with the help of support organisations, such as the Development Trust Association, and later Locality, which provided forums whereby early adopters of the model could act as case studies for other community organisations to learn from.

Another interesting point for us is that the demand-side pull of the sector may be shifting to a ‘supply-side push’[6] following the Quirk Review in 2007. [7] Increased policy support, combined with cuts to local authority spending, has led to many local authorities to seek to divest themselves of assets they can no longer afford to keep up.[8] This has led to concern that supply of unwanted assets may outweigh what development trusts can effectively manage. [9] The development trust is certainly a compelling model for community development. But does the model work if it is spurred by a supply-side push of too many unwanted, unloved and undermanaged buildings? More broadly, what lessons can other social innovators learn from the way this model has been adopted by uncontrolled diffusion across communities?

This research is funded and supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

[1] Mulgan et al. refer to demand ‘pull’ factors such as: ‘recognition of needs that are not being adequately met’ by social entrepreneurs and campaigners, who then seek to address these needs. We call such actions ‘demand-side pull’ for simplicity.
Mulgan, Geoff et al. (2007). ‘In and Out of Sync: The Challenge of Growing Social Innovations’ NESTA.

[2] Coin Street Community Builders ‘The Campaign’ http://coinstreet.org/who-we-are/history-background/the-campaign/.

[3] Locality ‘Development Trusts’ http://locality.org.uk/members/development-trusts/.

[4] Locality ‘2013 Member Survey’ http://locality.org.uk/members/member-survey-2013/.

[5] Mulgan et al. define ‘uncontrolled diffusion’ as: ‘ spread by communication through the media, books, conferences or word of mouth, and through professionals and other networks. Diffusion can be accelerated by self-appointed champions and ambassadors, who may or may not have a link with the original innovators. The less the controlled the diffusion, the more likely it is that the innovation will adapt in different ways according to local conditions.’
Mulgan, Geoff et al. (2007). ‘In and Out of Sync: The Challenge of Growing Social Innovations’ NESTA. http://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/in_and_out_of_sync.pdf.

[6] Founded in Mulgan et al.’s concept of ‘effective supply’ or ‘push’ factors, we conceptualise ‘supply-side push’ as a mirror of ‘demand-side pull’: social entrepreneurs and campaigners are encouraged by funders and policy-makers to meet needs through a particular innovation.
Mulgan, Geoff et al. (2007). ‘In and Out of Sync: The Challenge of Growing Social Innovations’ NESTA. http://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/in_and_out_of_sync.pdf.

[7] Hart, Lorraine (2010). “To Have and to Hold: The Development Trusts Association Guide to Asset Development for Community and Social Enterprises’” Asset Transfer Unit.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Thorlby, Tim (2011) ‘Finance and Business Models for Supporting Community Asset Ownership and Control’ JRF Briefing Paper: Community Assets.

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