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Measurement as legitimacy versus legitimacy of measures: Performance evaluation of social enterprise


Luke, B and Barraket, J and Eversole, R, Measurement as legitimacy versus legitimacy of measures: Performance evaluation of social enterprise, Qualitative Research in Accounting and Management, 10, (3-4) pp. 234-258. ISSN 1176-6093 (2013) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2013 Emerald Group Publishing Limited

DOI: doi:10.1108/QRAM-08-2012-0034


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to review the growing emphasis on quantifiable performance measures such as social return on investment (SROI) in third sector organisations specifically, social enterprise through a legitimacy theory lens. It then examines what social enterprises value (i.e. consider important) in terms of performance evaluation, using a case study approach.

Design/methodology/approach: Case studies involving interviews, documentary analysis, and observation, of three social enterprises at different life-cycle stages with different funding structures, were constructed to consider "what measures matter" from a practitioner's perspective.

Findings: Findings highlight a priority on quality outcomes and impacts in primarily qualitative terms to evaluate performance. Further, there is a noticeable lack of emphasis on financial measures other than basic access to financial resources to continue pursuing social goals.

Social implications: The practical challenges faced by social enterprises many of which are small to medium sized in evaluating performance and by implication organisational legitimacy are contrasted with measures such as SROI which are resource intensive and have inherent methodological limitations. Hence, findings suggest the limited and valuable resources of social enterprises would be better allocated towards documenting the actual outcomes and impacts as a first step, in order to evaluate social and financial performance in terms appropriate to each objective, in order to demonstrate organisational legitimacy.

Originality/value: Findings distinguish between processes which may hold symbolic legitimacy for select stakeholder groups, and processes which hold substantive, cognitive legitimacy for stakeholders more broadly, in the under-researched context of social enterprise.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:performance measures, legitimacy, evaluation, social enterprise, third sector, SROI
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Policy and administration
Research Field:Economic development policy
Objective Division:Economic Framework
Objective Group:Management and productivity
Objective Field:Management and productivity not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Eversole, R (Professor Robyn Eversole)
ID Code:88116
Year Published:2013
Deposited By:Institute for Regional Development
Deposited On:2014-01-13
Last Modified:2015-02-23

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