Understanding Accountability in Social Enterprise Organisations: A Framework

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Social enterprise organisations (SEOs) operate across the boundaries of the public, private and not‐for‐profit (NFP) sectors in delivering public services and competing for resources and legitimacy. While there is a rich literature on accountability in the private and public sectors, together with the wider NFP sector, SEOs have received comparatively little attention and remain a relatively under‐researched organisational form. Drawing on accountability, legitimacy and user‐needs theories, the purpose of this paper is to develop a practical framework which can be used to explore how accountability within SEOs is constructed and discharged.

Design/methodology/approach: This paper draws on user‐needs, accountability, legitimacy and impression management theories expounded in relation to the private, public and NFP sectors.

Findings: A framework to better understand how accountability can be discharged by SEOs is developed and discussed.

Research limitations/implications: While a framework for better understanding SEO accountability is presented, it is not empirically tested. However, the framework has the potential to facilitate a deeper appreciation of the theory and practice of accountability within SEOs and, notwithstanding the inherent difficulties in measuring and managing accountability, could be used to stimulate practitioner involvement.

Practical implications
– As little is known about the current extent of SEO information disclosure or accountability relationships, the framework could be used to assess the discharge of accountability by SEOs, with the findings informing future developments. This should provide useful insights into internal processes and organisational views on accountability bases and mechanisms and can then be used to inform the debate on how SEOs can best discharge their duty to account.

Social implications
– Understanding the nature of SEO accountability reporting has important implications for those involved in advancing the SEO agenda. At a time of public sector cutbacks, and with the government searching for new and more effective ways of delivering services, the role of SEOs in this process is likely to receive greater attention and scrutiny.

– SEOs have grown extensively in size and prominence in recent years and policymakers have come to embrace the role that they play in societal development. This paper responds to a gap in the theoretical literature and contributes to the debate by developing a framework which can be empirically tested. Moreover, it can be used to prompt practitioner involvement and facilitate a better understanding of the complex issues surrounding accounting and accountability in this under‐researched area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-237
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Enterprise Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011


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