Case spotlight: UrbanGarden: A Strategic Rethink

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This case was featured in the December 2023 issue of Connect.

Who – the protagonist

Anna MacKenzie, Project Manager of UrbanGarden.

What?

Starting as a means to introduce food growing to urban areas, UrbanGarden had evolved into a diverse and multifaceted health and wellbeing charity.

No longer a small community project, but a serious organisation, UrbanGarden had gone from an approximate income of £3,500 in 2010 to £245,000 in 2018.

fruit and vegetable bowl

Why?

However, along with the trustees, Anna had recognised that they were still running the organisation as if it were a project (or many separate projects), lacking a vision that the whole organisation could work towards, leaving them in a position where they constantly had to chase funding to secure their operation and sustain their projects and jobs.

There was a collective view that UrbanGarden needed to make some considerable changes to ensure long-term sustainability.

When?

It was in the New Year of 2018 when Anna was reflecting on her experience managing UrbanGarden.

Where?

UrbanGarden’s two gardens, including a natural play area for children, were located in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

Key quote

“When I started the charity, I begged, borrowed and stole from everyone else, but I didn’t have enough knowledge to know what made a good contract or what our contracts were like.”
Anna MacKenzie.

What next?

Anna knew that it wasn’t sustainable for an organisation that had grown from a small community project to a six-figure business to be delivering many disconnected workstreams, and to be relying on multiple funders.

So, was it time for Anna to hand over the reins? Did UrbanGarden need a strategic rethink to draw together a single and sustainable vision, mission and strategy? Was it best to leave UrbanGarden as it was and celebrate the diversity of the individual elements of the projects, recognising that there would always be dependency on third party funding initiatives?

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

On the reasons for writing the case…

Paula said: “I had been collaborating with the protagonist through the interns mentioned in the case material, which led to a deeper research collaboration, but I knew early on that there could be an interesting teaching case written based on the organisation’s experience. This feeling became even stronger as I carried out more of the field work. As someone who teaches non-profit management, I found that there was limited case material for me to use in my teaching, so why not write a case myself.”

On the case writing challenges…

Paula continued: “Time was my biggest barrier. I was awarded the case writing scholarship from The Case Centre just as COVID-19 hit, and then everything ‘research-related’ got pushed back and de-prioritised and this lasted for quite a while. I was extremely pleased when I finally managed to complete the case in 2023.”

hourglass timer

On teaching the case…

She added: “I have so far only taught it once in its current form but have had a colleague teach it as well. I have also taught a modified version of it – a version I intend to write up as an additional teaching note in the future. My teaching experience of the case has been in non-standard teaching situations, in that I have taught it on visits abroad while I was on sabbatical. I look forward to teaching it to my own students one day and being able to truly build the case into my course material, for an extended case experience, rather than as one-off exercises, which is what I’ve done so far.”

On how students react to the case…

She commented: “Students have really enjoyed the case. They often come into it with a rather critical view of the protagonist, but as the different layers of the case are revealed, including more information about the protagonist and the Scottish non-profit environment, they start looking at things from a different perspective. They also begin to realise and accept the intricacies of non-profit management and that it is rarely a textbook management scenario.”

On case writing tips…

Paula explained: “Have an interesting case that can reveal many different avenues for exploring – both for you as the writer, and for whoever will be teaching it. Have good, rich field material at hand.

“When it comes to writing the actual case, I would say to take your time. While I would rather have not taken quite as long as I did (roughly three years), I would say the case got better with more time and reflection. I had superb support from the protagonist, colleagues testing and viewing my teaching case, and the reviewer comments for the case. I recommend engaging others in the process of writing, testing and revising your case, and to be open to any suggestions.”

Final word…

Paula concluded: “I had an extremely good experience with The Case Centre, and Hazel Walker was so helpful throughout the entire case writing scholarship process, from receiving the award to case completion, and supported me through some tough personal times. I would absolutely recommend others to apply for the case writing scholarship and go down that route if possible.”

THE CASE 

The case

Who – the protagonist

Anna MacKenzie, Project Manager of UrbanGarden.

What?

Starting as a means to introduce food growing to urban areas, UrbanGarden had evolved into a diverse and multifaceted health and wellbeing charity.

No longer a small community project, but a serious organisation, UrbanGarden had gone from an approximate income of £3,500 in 2010 to £245,000 in 2018.

fruit and vegetable bowl

Why?

However, along with the trustees, Anna had recognised that they were still running the organisation as if it were a project (or many separate projects), lacking a vision that the whole organisation could work towards, leaving them in a position where they constantly had to chase funding to secure their operation and sustain their projects and jobs.

There was a collective view that UrbanGarden needed to make some considerable changes to ensure long-term sustainability.

When?

It was in the New Year of 2018 when Anna was reflecting on her experience managing UrbanGarden.

Where?

UrbanGarden’s two gardens, including a natural play area for children, were located in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

Key quote

“When I started the charity, I begged, borrowed and stole from everyone else, but I didn’t have enough knowledge to know what made a good contract or what our contracts were like.”
Anna MacKenzie.

What next?

Anna knew that it wasn’t sustainable for an organisation that had grown from a small community project to a six-figure business to be delivering many disconnected workstreams, and to be relying on multiple funders.

So, was it time for Anna to hand over the reins? Did UrbanGarden need a strategic rethink to draw together a single and sustainable vision, mission and strategy? Was it best to leave UrbanGarden as it was and celebrate the diversity of the individual elements of the projects, recognising that there would always be dependency on third party funding initiatives?

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Author perspective

On the reasons for writing the case…

Paula said: “I had been collaborating with the protagonist through the interns mentioned in the case material, which led to a deeper research collaboration, but I knew early on that there could be an interesting teaching case written based on the organisation’s experience. This feeling became even stronger as I carried out more of the field work. As someone who teaches non-profit management, I found that there was limited case material for me to use in my teaching, so why not write a case myself.”

On the case writing challenges…

Paula continued: “Time was my biggest barrier. I was awarded the case writing scholarship from The Case Centre just as COVID-19 hit, and then everything ‘research-related’ got pushed back and de-prioritised and this lasted for quite a while. I was extremely pleased when I finally managed to complete the case in 2023.”

hourglass timer

On teaching the case…

She added: “I have so far only taught it once in its current form but have had a colleague teach it as well. I have also taught a modified version of it – a version I intend to write up as an additional teaching note in the future. My teaching experience of the case has been in non-standard teaching situations, in that I have taught it on visits abroad while I was on sabbatical. I look forward to teaching it to my own students one day and being able to truly build the case into my course material, for an extended case experience, rather than as one-off exercises, which is what I’ve done so far.”

On how students react to the case…

She commented: “Students have really enjoyed the case. They often come into it with a rather critical view of the protagonist, but as the different layers of the case are revealed, including more information about the protagonist and the Scottish non-profit environment, they start looking at things from a different perspective. They also begin to realise and accept the intricacies of non-profit management and that it is rarely a textbook management scenario.”

On case writing tips…

Paula explained: “Have an interesting case that can reveal many different avenues for exploring – both for you as the writer, and for whoever will be teaching it. Have good, rich field material at hand.

“When it comes to writing the actual case, I would say to take your time. While I would rather have not taken quite as long as I did (roughly three years), I would say the case got better with more time and reflection. I had superb support from the protagonist, colleagues testing and viewing my teaching case, and the reviewer comments for the case. I recommend engaging others in the process of writing, testing and revising your case, and to be open to any suggestions.”

Final word…

Paula concluded: “I had an extremely good experience with The Case Centre, and Hazel Walker was so helpful throughout the entire case writing scholarship process, from receiving the award to case completion, and supported me through some tough personal times. I would absolutely recommend others to apply for the case writing scholarship and go down that route if possible.”

THE CASE 

Read the case

Educators can login to view a free educator preview copy of this case and its accompanying teaching note.

CASE - Reference no. 323-0180-1
TEACHING NOTE - Reference no. 323-0180-8
TEACHING NOTE SUPPLEMENT - Reference no. 323-0180-8B
This case was written with the support of a Case Writing Scholarship awarded by The Case Centre.
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