Tag Archives: growth

The numbers game

???????????????????????????????I’m a big fan of parkrun – the weekly 5K run (not a race…) enjoyed across the UK every Saturday at 9am by over 50,000 runners of all ages and abilities.

My first parkrun was in May 2013 and I’ve since led two parkrun teams in raising awareness and funds for Movember, run at five courses, and spent 9 months trying (unsuccessfully) to set up a parkrun in my home town. I enjoy marshalling at some of the runs (along with over 5,000 others volunteers) almost as much as the running. What I was told when I started –“it’s not about the running, it’s about the community” – is absolutely true for me and, I believe, a vast number of other parkrunners.

Looking only at the numbers is one way of measuring whether parkrun is successful. The organisers have an amazing array of statistics – compiled and updated weekly by the individual parkruns and available for all to see. The stats paint an impressive picture and the organisers and sponsors are rightly praised for mobilising so many people to take exercise on a regular basis. Note the parkrun seeds were sown 10 years ago – long before the 2012 Olympics. For me, the personal stories from members of the parkrunners’ community are an equally powerful testimony to the importance of the parkrun phenomenon.

But now parkrun is facing a problem of its own success – the number of people wanting to get involved is causing concern about wear and tear on routes, pressure on facilities such as parking and toilets and, in some cases, is bringing runners into conflict with other users of the public spaces. I also sense that over about 150 runners, the special dynamic of the community changes, but this is just a gut feeling.

The parkrun UK strategy for dealing with the spectacular increase in interest seems to be to create many more parkruns – having ten by this time next year is the aspiration for my home county (where we currently have three). In theory, each would attract smaller numbers of runners, travelling shorter distances to get there, and reducing pressure on any one location.

It’s not just parkrun that has to address issues around growth. In the field of social enterprise, there’s an ongoing debate about how best to scale (up) successful producers and providers. The trick is to balance the often conflicting demands associated with addressing ever-growing unmet need cost-effectively while protecting the very thing that makes social enterprise so special; the closeness to customers, connection with the wider community and a sense of shared ownership within the enterprise itself.

It’s the age-old debate about appropriate scale, quality vs quantity of (jargon alert!) outputs and outcomes, and about the breadth and depth of provision. Those concerned about the development and growth of social enterprise, interested in scaling up to make enough difference to enough people’s lives to be taken seriously by mainstream naysayers, might do well to look to the runners in their local parks for some of the answers.

More about parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk

An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: E – H

Efficiency and effectiveness

A useful distinction is that efficiency is the relationship between inputs and outputs [productivity], while effectiveness is the relationship between inputs and outcomes [impact]. Charles Handy, management writer and thinker, suggests “Efficiency seeks to minimise cost given a particular outcome, effectiveness is more concerned with improving the outcome, and so it will accept higher costs for higher outputs.”

Meeting social, financial and environmental objectives – the so-called ‘triple bottom line’ – complicates the picture. How do you balance efficiency and effectiveness?


Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill.

To paraphrase David Robinson, founder of Community Links in London… If we don’t fail it means we’re not taking risks. If we’re not taking risks it means we’re not trying to do things differently. And if we’re not trying to do things differently, we should be!

But nor should we waste our time flogging dead horses – know when to give up and move on.


What is the ideal size for your organisation? It can be dangerous simply to assume that bigger means better – it can be a liability or an asset. Impact may be a better measure than size alone.

The strength of many social ventures comes from them being rooted in local communities, yet scaling up successfully brings benefit to more people (social impact). One way to reconcile this may be to replicate a proven model, adapting it to each local context under a franchise, licence or less formal arrangement.


Management structures in not-for-private profit enterprises tend to be ‘flatter’ than in mainstream businesses, with relatively little distance between the administrative worker and the chair of the management committee. This can blur lines of authority and responsibility creating confusion, but ‘empowerment’ is more than a jargon word; it can harness additional staff resources – particularly important when times are hard