Learning and Research

At Access learning is at the heart of everything that we do. Here we share our learning strategy, some initial reports and analysis and details of research that we have supported.

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Putting our learning strategy into practice

In May 2017 Access commissioned the TI Group to do a scoping study describing how our Measures of Success and Learning Strategy could be implemented and how a learning partner could best support Access during its lifetime. This work is now complete and has been presented to and approved by Access’s board.

This piece of work described the transformation that Access is seeking as an organisation, with special attention given to the Capacity Building programme. The full report is available here but, in brief, Access will know it’s achieving its intended impact if:

  • Honest and authentic feedback informs good practices that are shared and adopted across the social investment market, with Access leading by example;
  • The programmes, tools and flows of money make a tangible difference to organisations, equally and fairly responding to the needs of the majority of organisations and their beneficiaries;
  • Social sector organisations are empowered by their increasing financial resilience and confidence in their impact; and
  • Impact data is the starting point for active learning, beginning with Access and the organisations with which it collaborates, then spreading across the market and its stakeholders.

High level measures have been described for each of these areas and further work is underway to refine them. The key implication is that for Access to understand and amplify its own impact, working with and understanding the role of all stakeholders in the value chain is essential – from social investors, to intermediaries, to social sector organisations, to beneficiaries and communities.

Access and the TI Group are now developing a comprehensive plan to support learning and impact and secure Access’ legacy. 

This will build upon and enhance what we are already doing to share learning from our work. We are publishing quarterly dashboards to provide a summary of activity across our funds and programmes, including some summary analysis, key figures and financials. You can read more about the dashboards in this March blog post by Seb and view our Quarterly Dashboard page here

In January 2017 we published summary data and analysis from 13 live Growth Fund applications (as of 1 December 2016) in our report Initial Observations on Blending Debt and Grant from the Growth Fund

We also visit charities and social enterprises who are recipients or potential recipients of our funds and programmes – you can read more about the visits in these blog posts


We are currently supporting a number of exciting, ongoing pieces of research and will share full details and reports here once published. These include:

Prosper business support programme

We are a co-funder of Prosper, a business support programme for the arts, museums and libraries delivered by Creative United and partners. Our funding is focussed on research and evaluation activities for the programme, to develop a better understanding of the business support and investment readiness needs of charities and social enterprises in the arts and culture sector.

The programme was launched in March 2017. You can find out more on the Prosper website and in this article by Ed, our Strategy and Policy Manager, for Arts Professional in October 2017. 

Use of subsidy in the social investment market to date

In addition to evaluating and sharing learning from our own programmes and funds, we are keen to build upon and fully utilise learning from a range of previous initiatives within the sector which have used grant subsidy or blended finance to achieve their goals. We hope that consolidating this evidence base will also be useful for other providers of subsidy when designing future programmes. Our aims for this project were initially outlined in this November blog by Seb, our CEO. 

We are pleased to have supported the following published research:

Impact Readiness Fund 

by Adrian Hornsby published July 2017

The Impact Readiness Fund  (IRF) ran from 2014-16 and provided grants to support charities and social enterprises with building their impact measurement capability so that they could raise investment or secure contracts. Access and Big Society Capital co-funded a piece of research to answer the following questions:

  1. What has been the impact of the IRF on building the capability of charities and social enterprises to define, measure and manage their social impact?
  2. Has the support provided by the IRF enabled charities to progress towards winning investment or contracts?
  3. What additional impact has been delivered by charities and social enterprises as a result of receiving support from the IRF?

You can read the full report here

On September 11 2017 the Impact Management Programme hosted a learning event in London following the publication of the report. You can read Adrian’s write up of that event here and the blog on the Impact Management Programme website here

Social Shares – Risk Finance for Social Enterprises and Charities

by Flip Finance published February 2017

We funded this Flip Finance research to establish the extent to which risk finance (quasi equity) is being used in social investment, to investigate the experiences of those who had used it and to determine whether there is a need for greater availability within the sector, as well as to consider alternative models of risk-finance which could be tested. 

The research found that:

  • Very few social investments to date have made use of any quasi equity (QE) (roughly 1-2%)
  • There is some evidence of demand, and of the suitability of QE for the needs of a range of charities and social enterprises
  • Investors perceive QE as complicated and expensive, potential investees are either unaware of such products, or find them confusing.

and developed five alternative models which are outlined in the report. 

We are utilising this research with regard to our Growth Fund to consider if/ how QE could be used to meet demand within this programme under our New Approaches theme (more information on our Growth Fund and its themes can be found here). 

Click here to download the full report

Data Evolution Project

by DataKind UK and Data Orchard published January 2017

This research looked at the journey towards data maturity and where social sector organisations were along the way, creating a framework and tool for measuring data maturity in the social sector and sharing methodology.

The research found the most crucial factor in an organisation’s data maturity to be people. It identified significant variation in what is understood by the term ‘data’ both between and within organisations and identified a number of ‘barriers’ to data maturity for organisations of different types and maturity. 

You can find out more about the project on its website or click to read the full report or summary report. You can also download the data maturity framework which was created as part of this research to help you to understand your organisation’s current position in terms of its data use and to consider your next steps. 

Small Charities and Social Investment 

by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) published November 2016

This report takes a close look at the ‘social investment journey’ of 25 small charities, providing in-depth insights into their motivation, experience of the process, challenges encountered, the support they received and factors that might improve the journey.

While there are some very positive experiences of moving through the investment process, many of these organisations were stretched, busy, service delivery charities handling social investment ‘off the side of the desk’ with little or no prior knowledge and experience. In many cases the experience was unfamiliar, opaque and confusing, made difficult not just by inexperience but by the information and support provided by lenders. The findings help to identify what is important to small organisations and lead to suggestions on actions which could be taken to improve the journey.

The report highlights opportunities to develop blended finance products. It also focuses on the need for charities to explain their assets and strengths during the application process rather than focusing on deficits and gaps. Lenders interested in supporting charities to deliver on their mission need to be willing to see charity survival as a legitimate form of social impact.

IVAR proposes that ‘the aim of all social investments should be to leave an organisation in a stronger position, not only financially but also in relation to its ability to pursue its mission’, and identifies a number of clear ways in which lenders can strengthen their practice.

Click here to download the full report

Building the Pipeline for the Growth Fund

by NPC published March 2016

This report provides an assessment of the potential pipeline for the Growth Fund. We commissioned this research to inform outreach and support work for the fund, which we launched in May 2015.

The report identified the capabilities needed to be a Growth Fund social investor, mapped the potential providers landscape and identified gaps and potential partnership structures. 

It identified the opportunities available and the barriers and issues facing both potential loan providers and social enterprises and charities and developed recommendations to overcome these, which were incorporated into the programme’s design. 

Click here to download the full report

Prospecting the Future: Social Enterprise and Finance Data from 2011 – 2015

by Social Enterprise UK published January 2016

The report provided a snapshot of social enterprises operating in the UK and their finances. We funded this research in order increase understanding of this of and for the sector and to increase the accessibility of the data.

The research provided an in-depth analysis of a large existing dataset from in-depth surveys, looking longitudinally over a number of years and incorporating factors such as scale and geography in determining which organisations had taken on social investment and had done so successfully. It also considered how grants and loans were related within the sector, which was of obvious interest to us in the early design of our programmes. 

The report found that social enterprises are increasingly in need of working capital to finance their operations and deliver contracts, as cash flow was a key issue for many. It highlighted a number of needs for consideration, such as the demand for smaller, ‘riskier’ amounts of capital and the importance of grant as ‘a part of the mix’, which were key elements in the design of our Growth Fund. 

Click here to download the full report