The long view: applying historically informed approaches to study the growth of social ventures

Lyon, Fergus and Blundel, Richard (2012). The long view: applying historically informed approaches to study the growth of social ventures. In: 2012 Research Colloquium on Social Entrepreneurship, 16-19 Jul 2012, Oxford, UK.



Research on social entrepreneurship has emphasised the need to examine the scaling and replicability of social innovations and associated business models. Social ventures play a critical mediating role in constructing these models in order to deliver specific innovations. However, little consideration has been given to the long-term growth of social ventures as organizational forms. This gap in our understanding has been filled by generalised assumptions, which may not reflect the inherent variety and complexity of the underlying processes. The main aim of the paper is to develop a methodology that is capable of supporting more historically-informed empirical work on the growth of social ventures. The argument is elaborated through a critical review of relevant literatures and a comparative analysis of the growth of two social ventures located in the United Kingdom. The paper demonstrates how analytically structured historical narratives can be used to conduct more nuanced, multi-level studies of organizational growth over extended periods. In doing so, it contributes to our appreciation of context-specific interactions, including the renegotiation of founding visions, the joint pursuit of social and economic opportunities and transitions to new forms of governance. It also relates these organization-level dynamics to the broader challenge facing social enterprises as they negotiate operating environments that are characterised by changing societal norms, economic turbulence, policy and regulatory innovation and the marketisation of public services.

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