Social Enterprise


What role can social enterprise play within the third sector?Our research includes theoretical and policy analysis, and is currently focusing on:

  • The role of social enterprises in public services provision and the nature of this involvement
  • How social enterprise spin outs in health care position themselves in relation to the public, private and third sectors
  • The adoption of social enterprise practices amongst small charities
  • Management challenges and tensions in social enterprises
  • Spin-outs and social value creation in health and social care services established under the 'Right to Request'

These topics are being addressed using a range of methods including quantitative survey data analysis, as well as qualitative work including an action research project with social enterprises that are involved in public service provision.

Research Contacts

  • Heather Buckingham
  • Kelly Hall 
  • Fergus Lyon
  • Robin Miller

Research 2008-2013

During the past five years, our research within the Centre’s social enterprise work stream addressed the following key questions:

  • What is meant by social enterprise? How is the sector changing?
  • What role does policy play in promoting social enterprises and supporting their involvement in government contracts?
  • What is the distinctive role (positive or negative) that enterprise can play in promoting social inclusion and social cohesion?
  • How do social enterprises change over time? What factors shape their growth and contraction?


Research publications

A journal article by TSRC researchers has been made freely available through open access. The Playing with Numbers: A Methodological Critique of the Social Enterprise Growth Myth article from March 2013 explores the myth of social enterprise growth in the UK, noting that the large growth can be mainly explained by political decisions to reinterpret social enterprise. 

TSRC's social enterprise publications grouped by their focus area and may be downloaded as a PDF

Measuring social value in social enterprise

  • Briefing Paper 66: Social impact measurement as an entrepreneurial process, Professor Fergus Lyon and Dr Malin Arvidson (Novembser 2011)
  • Paper 49: The ambitions and challenges of SROI, Dr Malin Arvidson, Professor Fergus Lyon, Professor Stephen McKay and Dr Domenico Moro (Jan 2011)
     Briefing paper | Working paper 

Social enterprise: the emergence of the concept

  • Paper 46: What's in a name? The construction of social enterprise, Simon Teasdale (Sept 2010)
    Working paper
  • Paper 43: Approaches to measuring the scale of the social enterprise sector in the UK, Fergus Lyon, Simon Teasdale and Rob Baldock (Sept 2010)
    Briefing paper | Working paper
  • Paper 15: Outsider, missing link or panacea? The place of social enterprise (with)in and in relation to the Third Sector, Leandro Sepulveda (Dec 2009)
    Briefing paper | Working paper 

Measuring and mapping the scale and scope of social enterprise

  • Paper 69: The marketisation of charities in England and Wales, Stephen McKay, Domenico Moro, Simon Teasdale and David Clifford (November 2011)
    Working paper (PDF, 510KB)
  • Paper 47: A comparative study of changes in earned income among third sector organisations in England and Wales, and the United states, Simon Teasdale (Oct 2010)
    Briefing paper
  • Paper 43: Approaches to measuring the scale of the social enterprise sector in the UK, Fergus Lyon, Simon Teasdale and Rob Baldock (Sept 2010)
    Briefing paper | Working paper
  • Paper 35: The regional geography of social enterprise in the UK: a review of recent surveys Heather Buckingham, Steven Pinch and Peter Sunley (July 2010) 
    Briefing paper | Working paper
  • Paper 4: Mapping social enterprises: past approaches, challenges and future directions, Fergus Lyon and Dr Leandro Sepulveda
    Briefing paper 

Diversity in social entrepreneurship

  • Paper 107: Gender balance in the governance of social enterprise, Fergus Lyon and Anne Humbert (August 2013)
    Working paper
  • Paper 72: Women as social entrepreneurs, Dr Anne Laure Humbert (February 2012)
    Working paper
  • Paper 48: Social enterprise and ethnic minorities, Leandro Sepulveda, Stephen Syrett, Sara Calvo (Nov 2010)
    Briefing paper | Working paper
  • Paper 40: Womens' leadership, employment and participation in the third sector, Simon Teasdale, Stephen McKay, Jenny Phillimore and Nina Teasdale (October 2010)

Social enterprises and the state: housing, homelessness, health

  • Paper 114: Social innovation, co-operation and competition: inter-organisational relations for social enterprises in the delivery of public services, Fergus Lyon (November 2013)
    Working Paper
  • Paper 53: Connecting the dots: the potential for self-help housing to address homelessness, Simon Teasdale, Patricia A. Jones and David Mullins (Jan 2011)
    Briefing paper
  • Paper 52: Social enterprise spin-outs from the English health service: a Right to Request but was anyone listening?, Robin Miller and Dr Ross Millar (Feb 2011)
    Working paper
  • Paper 51: Below the radar in a Big Society? Reflections on community engagement, empowerment and social action in a changing policy context, Angus McCabe (Feb 2011)
    Briefing paper
  • Paper 5: Innovation in the homeless field: How does social enterprise respond to the needs of homeless people?, Simon Teasdale
    Briefing paper | Working paper
  • Paper 3: Can social enterprise address social exclusion? Evidence from an inner city community, Simon Teasdale
    Briefing paper | Working paper 

Management issues in social enterprise

  • Paper 108: Beyond green niches? Growth strategies of environmentally-motivated social enterprises, Ian Vickers and Fergus Lyon (August 2013)
    Working paper
  • Paper 83: Innovation and social enterprise activity in third sector organisations, Celine Chew and Fergus Lyon (November 2012)
    Working paper (pdf, 481KB)
  • Paper 79: Scaling-up social enterprise: strategies taken from early years providers, Fergus Lyon and Heather Fernandez (April 2012)
    Working paper (PDF, 367KB)
  • Paper 31: Black boxes in the wreckage? Making sense of failure in a social enterprise, Duncan Scott
    Briefing paper | Working paper
  • Paper 23: The contradictory faces of social enterprise, Simon Teasdale
    Briefing paper | Working paper 

Social enterprises and investment

The £100 million Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) was established by the Department of Health to stimulate the development of social enterprise in the delivery of health and social care services through the provision of start-up funding and long term investment. An evaluation of the programme was commissioned by the Department of Health, and was led by the Third Sector Research Centre and Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) at the University of Birmingham, with contributions from Middlesex University and Said Business School, University of Oxford.

SEIF investment has been crucial in enabling new social enterprises to start up. The main output of investment so far has been structural improvements and business support that has enabled social enterprises to grow. The evaluation found that without SEIF investment, many of the organisations involved would not exist or would be considerably reduced in scope.

The fund has helped to tackle unmet need and respond to gaps in health and social care. It tended to invest in services that targeted disadvantaged or vulnerable groups, including those struggling with poverty, mental illness or harm caused by alcohol, drugs or violence. SEIF investments were also used to empower communities and service users. Service users were strongly represented on social enterprise boards, as were paid members of staff and volunteers.

While it is too early to examine the health outcomes of SEIF investment, the evaluation found evidence of funds resulting in organisational changes which improved working conditions for staff and increased involvement of users and communities in service design and delivery.

The fund has not met all its ambitious aims, however. A large majority of the fund was used as grants, raising questions over the demand for loan finance amongst social enterprises and charities in the health and social care sector.

Longitudinal qualitative research - ‘Real Times'

  • Real Times involves long term in-depth qualitative research with 15 case studies reflecting a range of third sector organisations and activities. These case studies feature questions of direct relevance to social enterprise, including issues of innovation, growth and the relationship between social and economic objectives.