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How community-based social enterprises struggle with representation and accountability

Reinout Kleinhans (Department of Urbanism, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands)
Nick Bailey (Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Westminster, London, UK)
Jessica Lindbergh (Stockholm Business School, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 13 November 2019

Issue publication date: 29 January 2020




Community-based social enterprises (CBSEs), a spatially defined subset of social enterprise, are independent, not-for-profit organisations managed by community members and committed to delivering long-term benefits to local people. CBSEs respond to austerity and policy reforms by providing services, jobs and other amenities for residents in deprived communities, thus contributing to neighbourhood regeneration. This paper aims to develop a better understanding of how CBSEs perceive accountability, how they apply it in the management and representation of their business and why.


Nine case studies of CBSEs across three European countries (England, the Netherlands and Sweden) are analysed, using data from semi-structured interviews with initiators, board members and volunteers in CBSEs.


CBSEs shape accountability and representation in response to the needs of local communities and in the wake of day-to-day challenges and opportunities. Apart from financial reporting, CBSEs apply informal strategies of accountability which are highly embedded in their way of working and contingent upon their limited resources.


Although research has shown the complex governance position of CBSEs, their application of accountability to target communities and other stakeholders is unclear. The paper coins the term “adaptive accountability,” reflecting a relational, dialectic approach in which formal, costly accountability methods are only applied to legally required forms of accounting, and informal practices are accepted by funding agencies and governments as valid forms of accountability, assessing CBSEs’ societal value in more open terms.



Power To Change: Grant PTC-F6-/P30-PP-0000010/2016-000291.

This work was supported by Power To Change under Grant PTC-F6-/P30-PP-0000010/2016-000291. The authors wish to thank the interviewed representatives of the case studies and the CBSE support organisations in England (Power to Change), the Netherlands (LSA) and Sweden (Coompanion) for their assistance in carrying out the research. Special thanks go to Richard Harries and Ailbhe McNabola (Power to Change) for their active support to the research.


Kleinhans, R., Bailey, N. and Lindbergh, J. (2020), "How community-based social enterprises struggle with representation and accountability", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 60-81.



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