The paper aims to present case studies to uncover the reflections of key participants in a social enterprise network in West Yorkshire. It considers how they learn from failure and how they make sense of the variety of messages about, and approaches to, social enterprise.
The approach taken is based upon sense making in organisations. The paper builds upon the concept of ambiguity as well as Sydow's framework of inter‐organisational trust. Participant drawings of these ideas were used to enhance data generated from face to face interviews.
The paper reviews actors' experiences of failure in projects to explore the relationships of those active in social enterprises and support agencies. From this perspective, uncertainty, ambiguity and unexpected insights into mistrust between organisations were identified as underlying themes.
The concepts of uncertainty, ambiguity, trust and mistrust offer rich ways of perceiving the problems faced by social enterprises. They provide a framework to aid discussions of social enterprise development between academics and practitioners. These concepts may go towards improving understanding in resolving problems and be beneficial in formulating policies and practices that improve service delivery within communities.
Little research looks at lessons learnt from failure and associated issues of ambiguity and trust between social enterprises at a network level. If smaller social enterprises are going to work together in co‐ordinated activity to deliver social projects and to offer economies of scale in contract delivery, trust will be essential. This paper suggests that further research in this area is needed to consider the quality of relationships being nurtured.
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