Mapping social enterprises: past approaches, challenges and future directions

Briefing Paper 4

This paper examines how mapping of social enterprises has been carried out in the past, and explores the challenges being faced by current studies. It pays particular attention to the definitions used and how these definitions are operationalised. It aims to help inform researchers examining the impact and spread of social enterprises, and makes recommendations for policy makers commissioning studies.

Research on social enterprise is being undertaken at a national and regional level to identify the scale of the sector, so that public sector resources can be justified, support can be targeted, and public sector spending can be evaluated.

Past studies have adopted a variety of approaches, working from different definitions and adopting politically-driven interpretations of definitions. This has limited the ability to compare results. A particular challenge has been interpreting what is meant by “trading income” or “social” aims. This presents interesting political dilemmas, with many studies avoiding clarity in order to be inclusive, and thereby reducing the rigour of their data collection and analysis.

Any future research undertaken will need to address the challenges identified, ensuring it is explicit about its methods and recognises the political nature of definitions.

The paper draws on a range of different approaches, namely literature reviews, interviews with key informants, focus group discussions with social enterprises, support providers and researchers in different UK regions (2004) and focus group discussions with policy makers (2008).

Research contacts
Prof Fergus Lyon
Dr Leandro Sepulveda