Conculsion: Approaches to measuring the scale of the social enterprise sector in the UK

Conculsion: Approaches to measuring the scale of the social enterprise sector in the UK

Professor Fergus Lyon, Dr Simon Teasdale, and Dr Rob Baldock, Third Sector Research Centre


The aim of this paper has been to shed light on the complicated task of measuring the contested concept of social enterprise. The hybrid nature of social enterprise appears to be mirrored by a hybridity in those data sources that are used to understand the sector. Research looking to provide an evidence base, needs to combine data sources and be clear about what is being included and excluded. Researchers can provide the range of evidence from which interpretations can be made. In this paper we accept this subjectivity but only ask that users of the data are explicit in what they are reporting and more importantly, what they are not reporting.


By breaking down the data sources to help understand which sources examine private social enterprises and which include TSOs, we are able to provide a clearer picture. What has become evident from this review, is the huge confusion in the existing studies. This is also found in the wide range of smaller studies that have been carried out in different regions. The huge investment in research in mapping has been lost through a lack of clarity.


There is also a disjuncture between what has been measured and the focus of policy. While the most quoted data on social enterprise is drawn from the ASBS dominated by organisations from the private end of the social enterprise spectrum, the social enterprise infrastructure is dominated by the civil society end of the spectrum, with very few private social enterprises found on the lists of infrastructure bodies and social enterprise networks (CEEDR, 2008). There continues to be confusion over what is meant by social enterprise with many organisations meeting the definitional criteria rejecting the label, and many others using the label despite not meeting the definitional „tests‟.


What are the recommendations for future attempts to measure the scale of social enterprises? This paper has shown the importance of being clear about the sampling frame, having greater clarity in definitions and questions and being careful in how self reporting questions are interpreted. Any growth in the reported prevalence of social enterprise may therefore be a result of either (or both) a change in enterprise behaviour by private and TSOs, or the growing acceptance of social enterprise discourses leading to increasing numbers of organisations self defining as social enterprises. The data presented in this paper is the start of the process of providing a better evidence base on the social enterprise sector in the UK. It is recommended that future surveys are clearer about what they are measuring, which sample frames they are drawn from, and most importantly, why they are doing so.


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