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Mapping social enterprises: past approaches, challenges and future directions

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to examine how mapping of social enterprises has been carried out in the past, and the challenges being faced by current studies. It pays particular attention to the definitions used and how these definitions are operationalized. The challenges and future opportunities are examined, and recommendations are made for policy makers commissioning studies. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper draws on a range of different approaches, namely literature reviews, interviews with key informants, focus group type discussions with social enterprise support providers and researchers in different UK regions (in 2004), and focus group type discussions with policy makers in 2008. Findings ‐ There has been a variety of approaches with different definitions and politically-driven interpretations of definitions, which limits the ability to compare results. A particular challenge has been in interpreting what is meant by "trading income" or "social" aims. This presents interesting political dilemmas with many studies avoiding clarity in order to be inclusive thereby reducing the rigour of their data collection and analysis. Practical implications ‐ Research at a national and regional scale is being carried out to identify the scale of the sector so public sector support resources can be justified, support can be targeted, and public sector spending can be evaluated. These approaches will need to be explicit about how they are carrying out the research, recognise the political nature of definitions and to address the challenges identified. Originality/value ‐ This paper will be used by researchers examining the impact and extent of social enterprises and policy makers commissioning such studies.
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Keywords: Demographics; Enterpreneurialism; Knowledge mapping; United Kingdom

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 22, 2009

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