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Exploring Accountability in Social Enterprise: Priorities, Practicalities, and Legitimacy

Abstract

This paper draws upon accountability and legitimacy theories to explore for what social enterprises are accountable, how they communicate accountability, and to what extent they publicly communicate accountability. Case study methodology was employed, examining four work-integrated social enterprises in Australia. Data collection involved interviews with managers of each social enterprise, and a review of various secondary data including social enterprise websites and internal and external reports. Findings reveal a temporal dimension of accountability, as social enterprises acknowledged their dual social and financial accountability, but prioritised financial over social performance. Communication of social performance was limited, with publicly available reports partial and selective in nature. Communication of financial performance was even more limited, reporting typically directed to internal stakeholders. Implications include the need for social enterprises to communicate social and financial performance more broadly, in order to advance their legitimacy from moral (based on intentions) to consequential (based on achievements).

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Notes

  1. A non-profit organisation promoting and supporting social enterprise in Australia.

  2. In its capacity as a funding source.

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Acknowledgements

This research was approved by the Queensland University of Technology University Human Research Ethics Committee, Approval No. 1400000802.

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All authors contributed to the study conception, design, and drafting of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Belinda Luke.

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Bradford, A., Luke, B. & Furneaux, C. Exploring Accountability in Social Enterprise: Priorities, Practicalities, and Legitimacy. Voluntas 31, 614–626 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-020-00215-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-020-00215-8

Keywords

  • Accountability
  • Social enterprises
  • Reporting
  • Legitimacy
  • Australia