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Building an Infrastructure for Empirical Research on Social Enterprise: Challenges and Opportunities

Social Entrepreneurship and Research Methods

ISBN: 978-1-78441-142-8, eISBN: 978-1-78441-141-1

Publication date: 31 July 2014



Despite the increase in empirical studies of social enterprise in management and organization research, the lack of a cohesive knowledge base in this area is concerning. In this chapter, we propose that the underdevelopment of the attendant research infrastructure is an important, but oft-overlooked, barrier to the development of this body of empirical research.


We explore this proposition through a review of 55 empirical studies of social enterprises published in the last fifteen years, in which we examine the mix and trajectory of research methods used and the research infrastructure on which these studies depend.


We find that empirical research has used social enterprise largely as a context for theory development, rather than deductively testing, and thus building upon, existing theories. The latter pattern is due largely to the absence of two key dimensions of infrastructure: well-defined samples, and consistent, operational measures of social enterprise success. Finally, we identify present trends along both dimensions that contribute to changing the research infrastructure for empirical social enterprise research.


Our analysis highlights the critical need for research infrastructure to advance empirical research on social enterprise. From this perspective, research infrastructure-building provides an important opportunity for researchers interested in social enterprise and others interested in enabling high-quality empirical research in this setting.



Lee, M., Battilana, J. and Wang, T. (2014), "Building an Infrastructure for Empirical Research on Social Enterprise: Challenges and Opportunities", Social Entrepreneurship and Research Methods (Research Methodology in Strategy and Management, Vol. 9), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 241-264.



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