Research type: 
Year of report: 
Summary of findings: 

There is low awareness and understanding of the scheme and as a result there is a need for dynamic momentum to help encourage engagement with it.

There is also a call to clarify who the target audiences are and thus ensure that clinicians are aware that social enterprise is directed at them as well, and not simply at Provider Arms.

The different audiences included in the research were found to have varying levels of awareness and understanding of social enterprise:

  • SHAs have a full understanding of social enterprise and have fully bought into the ethos behind it, yet they are not as close to frontline clinicians and therefore only have a vague understanding of what their concerns and barriers might be
  • PCT Commissioners are aware of the detail behind social enterprise, but struggle to understand the ethos. As a result many are yet to buy into the core rationale behind social enterprise
  • Provider Arms can be divided into two core categories: Those who have done their research and bought into the concept; and those who are awaiting stimulation and information from the DH
  • Potential social enterprise participants: Nurses and Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) have a low awareness and understanding of social enterprise and are often unappreciative that they are a target audience; as opposed to GPs and Dentists who are more appreciative of the concept and its ethos
  • Those who have already set up or are currently setting up a social enterprise are hugely driven and motivated entrepreneurs who are fully immersed in the ethos of social enterprise

There is a need to define and promote social enterprise to PCT Commissioners and professional bodies in order to ensure their endorsement of the scheme. Social enterprise needs to be put forward as a credible business proposition and one that is different from other options, such as Community Foundation Trusts, to ensure the ethos behind social enterprise is understood. This in turn will prompt engagement and warmth towards the concept and ultimately encourage PCT Commissioners and professional bodies to promote social enterprise to NHS staff.

Once this has been achieved a PR campaign strategy can be implemented to improve levels of awareness and understanding amongst Provider Arms and potential entrepreneurs. An overview of social enterprise and the ethos behind it needs to be communicated first, followed by the benefits and hurdles, to ensure a sound understanding of the concept reaches all audiences. Not only the bare facts, but a clear and distinctive story should be delivered to help shape understanding. This can be done by using relevant case studies and roadshows to humanise social enterprise and bring it to life. Communications should also be tailored to each target audience utilising audience specific messaging and channels.

Once general awareness and understanding has been achieved, those who are still engaged with the idea of social enterprise need reassurance that support and guidance is available to help them throughout the process of actually setting up a social enterprise. It is only at this point in the PR campaign strategy that any communication of the ‘Right to Request’ should be implemented. Despite a generally positive response to the ‘Right to Request’, if it is communicated any earlier in the strategy it risks causing potential candidates to disengage with the concept of social enterprise, as they need to fully understand what social enterprise is and how it works first. However once this has been achieved the ‘Right to Request’ needs to be communicated as ‘the’ mechanism to help potential candidates set up a social enterprise.

Research objectives: 

To examine awareness and understanding of social enterprise amongst key audiences, as well as attitudes to and interest in social enterprise. In particular:

  • The initial motivations and triggers to setting up a social enterprise
  • The defining characteristics of those setting up social enterprises
  • The key barriers and hurdles to setting up a social enterprise

To explore awareness and understanding of the ‘Right to Request’ process amongst key audiences. In particular:

  • The different levels of awareness, as well as the manner in which different audiences have become aware of the ‘Right to Request’
  • The level of understanding different audiences have of the ‘Right to Request’
  • The key drivers and barriers to engage with the ‘Right to Request’ as well as the call to action

To recommend how to effectively reach the different target audiences in terms of which communication channels to use and the content of the communication messages:

  • What are the key message drivers to promote in the communication material
  • What are the key barriers to recognise and respond to in the communication material
  • What are the most effective and appropriate channels for communication to the different target audiences

A key focus for the Department of Health’s (DH's) patient-led reforms has been to encourage the creation and set up of social enterprises in the health and social care sector. In 2008 the Next Stage Review acknowledged the importance of social enterprise, and in turn the need to facilitate and encourage involvement. As such the ‘Right to Request’ was introduced in April 2009, which can be used by NHS staff to apply to their PCT board to set up a social enterprise.

Currently social enterprise in the health and social care sector, as well as the ‘Right to Request’, is communicated to its different target audiences through published documents and organised events. However the Social Enterprise Unit (SEU) at the DH is now looking to develop a communications campaign to encourage NHS staff to set up social enterprises.

The aim is to raise awareness of the ‘Right to Request’ amongst NHS staff, ensure Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) are clear what their roles and obligations are regarding social enterprise and the ‘Right to Request’, and to enhance support from national stakeholders.

Quick summary: 

The research was required to gauge awareness and understanding of social enterprise within the health and social care sector, as well as awareness of and reaction to the introduction of the ‘Right to Request’. In addition, research was needed to discover the most effective ways to reach and communicate with potential entrepreneurs.

Audience Summary





4 mini group discussions were conducted with ‘potential entrepreneurs’ (those likely to engage with the idea of social enterprise). Each group lasted approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes: 

  • 2 groups were with AHPs
  • 2 groups were with the nursing profession

32 in-depth interviews were also conducted. Each interview lasted approximately 1 hour:

  • 12 interviews were with those who have set up or are setting up an existing social enterprise - 6 were with those who have set up an existing social enterprise; 6 were with those who have applied to set up a social enterprise through the ‘Right to Request’
  • 12 interviews were with Management Facilitators - 4 with SHA Facilitators (individuals who are involved with the promoting, supporting and/or backing of social enterprises from the clinical side, finance, community services and HR); 4 with PCT Commissioners (individuals responsible for commissioning social enterprises); 4 with Provider Arms (individuals who are part of the management team and possibly have some influence over social enterprise requests)
  • 8 were with Potential Entrepreneurs – 4 with GPs; 4 with Dentists

Wherever possible an even gender split was maintained throughout the sample, however the mini group discussions with nurses were predominately female.

Data collection methodology: 
Depth interviews
Focus groups
Sample size: 
  • 4 mini groups (4 to 6 respondents in each)
  • 32 depths interview (n=52)
Fieldwork dates: 

September 2008

Agree to publish: 


Research agency: 
HPI Research
COI Number: