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On the evaluation of social innovations and social enterprises: Recognizing and integrating two solitudes in the empirical knowledge base


  • Szijarto, Barbara
  • Milley, Peter
  • Svensson, Kate
  • Cousins, J. Bradley


Social innovation (SI) is billed as a new way to address complex social problems. Interest in SI has intensified rapidly in the last decade, making it an important area of practice for evaluators, but a difficult one to navigate. Learning from developments in SI and evaluation approaches applied in SI contexts is challenging because of ‘fuzzy’ concepts and silos of activity and knowledge within SI communities. This study presents findings from a systematic review and integration of 41 empirical studies on evaluation in SI contexts. We identify two isolated conversations: one about ‘social enterprises’ (SEs) and the other about non-SE ‘social innovations’. These conversations diverge in key areas, including engagement with evaluation scholarship, and in the reported purposes, approaches and use of evaluation. We identified striking differences with respect to degree of interest in collaborative approaches and facilitation of evaluation use. The findings speak to trends and debates in our field, for example how evaluation might reconcile divergent information needs in multilevel, cross-sectoral collaborations and respond to fluidity and change in innovative settings. Implications for practitioners and commissioners of evaluation include how evaluation is used in different contexts and the voice of evaluators (and the evaluation profession) in these conversations.

Suggested Citation

  • Szijarto, Barbara & Milley, Peter & Svensson, Kate & Cousins, J. Bradley, 2018. "On the evaluation of social innovations and social enterprises: Recognizing and integrating two solitudes in the empirical knowledge base," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 20-32.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:epplan:v:66:y:2018:i:c:p:20-32
    DOI: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2017.08.010

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:eee:epplan:v:64:y:2017:i:c:p:98-104 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Elijah Bitange Ndemo, 2006. "Assessing sustainability of faith-based enterprises in Kenya," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 33(5/6), pages 446-462, May.
    3. Richard Hazenberg & Fred Seddon & Simon Denny, 2014. "Investigating the Outcome Performance of Work-Integration Social Enterprises (Wises): Do WISEs offer 'added value' to NEETs?," Public Management Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 16(6), pages 876-899, September.
    4. Zahra Arasti & Hadi Zarei & Fatemeh Didehvar, 2015. "Identifying the Evaluative Indicators of Regulatory Policies for the Development of Social Entrepreneurship," Public Organization Review, Springer, vol. 15(3), pages 453-474, September.
    5. Nino Antadze & Frances R. Westley, 2012. "Impact Metrics for Social Innovation: Barriers or Bridges to Radical Change?," Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(2), pages 133-150, October.
    6. Nicholls, Alex, 2009. "'We do good things, don't we?': 'Blended Value Accounting' in social entrepreneurship," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(6-7), pages 755-769, August.
    7. Dufour, Sarah & Lessard, Danielle & Chamberland, Claire, 2014. "Facilitators and barriers to implementation of the AIDES initiative, a social innovation for participative assessment of children in need and for coordination of services," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 64-70.
    8. Pol, Eduardo & Ville, Simon, 2009. "Social innovation: Buzz word or enduring term?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 38(6), pages 878-885, December.
    9. Patton, Michael Quinn & Horton, Douglas, 2008. "Utilization-focused evaluation for agricultural innovation," ILAC Briefs 52533, Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) Initiative.
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