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Social impact measurement: why do stakeholders matter?

Ericka Costa (Department of Economics and Management, University of Trento, Trento, Italy)
Caterina Pesci (Department of Economics and Management, University of Trento, Trento, Italy)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 7 March 2016




This paper aims to discuss the notion of social impact of social impact measurement in social enterprises by supporting the multiple-constituency theory as a contribution to this under-theorised issue. Moreover, the paper proposes the stakeholder-based approach as the most appropriate solution for selection among metrics related to the growing number of social impact measurements.


The paper proposes a review of social impact measurement studies by considering contributions from both academia and practitioners, while providing a reassessment and conceptualisation of this issue in terms of the multiple-constituency theory.


The paper criticises the “golden standard approach” to social impact measurement according to which social enterprises have to find one standardised metric capable of determining an organisation’s real impact. The golden standard approach promotes a more “political view” of social enterprises, according to which multiple stakeholders set performance standards based on their viewpoints regarding the measurement’s purposes.

Research limitations/implications

The paper responds to the urgent call to define a theoretical framework that might guide social impact measurement, seeking to avoid the current lack of order and transparency in existing practices that could serve as a vehicle for camouflaging corporate social un-sustainability.


The multiple-constituency approach should discourage organisations from opportunistically selecting a social impact measurement with the sole purpose of proving a higher impact, as, within the proposed new perspective, social impact metrics are no longer managed independently by the social enterprises themselves. Instead, these metrics are defined and constructed with the stakeholders. As a result, social enterprises’ manipulative intentions should diminish.



This paper is published with the support of Centre of Excellence in Accounting and Reporting for Co-operatives (CEARC) – Research Grants for the project: Social Impact Measurement for Social Cooperatives.


Costa, E. and Pesci, C. (2016), "Social impact measurement: why do stakeholders matter?", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 99-124.



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