In Research


Year: 2019
Published in: Social Enterprise Journal
Cited as: Kleinhans, R., N. Bailey and J. Lindbergh (2019). “How community-based social enterprises struggle with representation and accountability.” Social Enterprise Journal 16(1): 60-81.


Community-based social enterprises (CBSEs), a spatially defined subset of social enterprise, are independent, not-for-profit organisations managed by community members and committed to delivering long-term benefits to local people. CBSEs respond to austerity and policy reforms by providing services, jobs and other amenities for residents in deprived communities, thus contributing to neighbourhood regeneration. This paper aims to develop a better understanding of how CBSEs perceive accountability, how they apply it in the management and representation of their business and why.Design/methodology/approach Nine case studies of CBSEs across three European countries (England, the Netherlands and Sweden) are analysed, using data from semi-structured interviews with initiators, board members and volunteers in CBSEs.Findings CBSEs shape accountability and representation in response to the needs of local communities and in the wake of day-to-day challenges and opportunities. Apart from financial reporting, CBSEs apply informal strategies of accountability which are highly embedded in their way of working and contingent upon their limited resources.Originality/value Although research has shown the complex governance position of CBSEs, their application of accountability to target communities and other stakeholders is unclear. The paper coins the term “adaptive accountability,” reflecting a relational, dialectic approach in which formal, costly accountability methods are only applied to legally required forms of accounting, and informal practices are accepted by funding agencies and governments as valid forms of accountability, assessing CBSEs’ societal value in more open terms.


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Recommendations from this resource

Future Research

1) Future researches should evaluate additional examples from Sweden, England, Netherlands, but also other European countries will help to build a wider understanding of Community-based social enterprises (CBCEs) practice in general and accountability in particular.
2) the limited body of empirical research on CBSEs in Europe leaves scientists, policymakers and citizens with open questions regarding impact but also how to ‘measure’ the ‘public/societal value’ produced by CBSEs. Research should both unravel the concept of public value in the context of hybrid civil society, and explore how this concept can be effectively incorporated in forms of adaptive accountability beyond narrow, rule-oriented approaches.
3) furure research might uncover how ‘adaptive accountability’ unfolds across different stages of CBSE development.