The purpose of this paper is to identify important elements of the evaluation and definition of success in social entrepreneurship. It considers previous approaches and the lessons that can be learned from other fields of organizational studies.
The method used is based upon an objective and subjective, social constructionist view of organizational success. The paper reviews the fields of strategy, organization theory, entrepreneurship and innovation to identify relevant frameworks, measures, definitions of success, and the implications of the choice of success measures on our understanding of various phenomena.
From this perspective, it becomes apparent that how success and failure are defined is based on assumptions about the value of social enterprise and the nature of social change. In order to develop a deeper understanding of the drivers of social enterprise, there must be experimentation with a rich complement of success measures that are not limited to the triple bottom line.
The paper is of use to social enterprise researchers, practitioners and consultants who are defining what it means for a social enterprise to be successful. The insights should allow for a more conscious evaluation of a range of potential success measures and the impacts they have on our social outcomes.
Although measuring social enterprise success is recognized to be an important topic, most work in the field implicitly or explicitly identifies success based on a goal‐centred evaluation of the triple bottom line. The paper challenges this thinking to include subjectivity, causation, contestation, organizational form and the multiple polar dimensions that must be balanced by every organization. It draws on research from related fields that have already struggled with these issues and can offer valuable lessons for social enterprise.
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