UNTFSSE Award Series (2023 EMES International Research Conference): Uneven Contexts and Issues in Impact Measurement for the Social and Solidarity Economy

Abstract - EN

Social and solidarity economy enterprises and organizations (SSEEOs) are designed to aim towards value creation for specific publics (typically marginalized publics, Santos 2012) or towards collectively shared values, possibly consistently with SDGs. One non-marginal feature of social economy organizations, and in particular of those identified as social enterprises, is their requirement or aspiration to implement inclusive governance structures and processes, so that they can improve the discovery of emerging development instances among those who have a stake in the activities (Sacchetti, 2015). Inclusive governance follows the rationale of reducing the societal costs generated when relevant multidimensional needs and inequalities remain unaddressed, as pointed out by strategic failure scholars (Cowling and Sugden, 1998; Sacchetti & Borzaga, 2021). This failure happens because it is assumed that transactions with those excluded from the organisation’s control functions are taken care by competitive markets, thus ensuring optimal solutions for non-proprietor stakeholders (Heath, 2011).
Still, the definition of pro-SDGs strategies operated at local level by SSE organizations may not be as inclusive as to reduce social costs for the marginalized or unforeseen stakeholders. Moreover, SSE organizations are nested in upper institutional layers (Ostrom, 2010). SSE interact with the strategies of transnational actors operating for SDG goals at the macro level (such as financial institutions, global organizations) and more broadly with varying rules that define market institutions and capabilities across territories and world regions. The scenario is one of great institutional variety and multidimensional inequalities (Hall and Gingerich, 2009). The outcomes of SSE organizations are not independent from such configurations. Hence the assessment of their performance with respect to intended outcomes, which may concern for instance social investors (Musella, 2020), requires – more broadly – an appropriate consideration of the interplay between organizational choices on inclusion and the context defined by the relevant upper institutional layers.
Based on these premises, this paper provides a contribution to the elaboration of a multilevel theoretical framework enabling a “reflexive social impact measurement”, that is, a quantitative assessment of SSEEOs’ social impacts generated by an investment, a project, a regulation, or a practice, based on an informed and inclusive choice of the most appropriate impacts to measure, given the scope of the organization and relevant institutional configurations. Conclusions argue for a role of SSE organisations to promote strategies towards the inclusion of multilevel effects so to reduce the risk of incurring in economic actions that are mutually inconsistent across stakeholders
and evaluation errors which miss the possible social cost of intended generative actions.