How community-based social enterprises struggle with representation and accountability

Reinout Kleinhans, Nick Bailey, Jessica Lindbergh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


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.

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.

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.

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-81
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Enterprise Journal
Volume16 (2020)
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Nov 2019


  • Accountability
  • Active citizenship
  • Community enterprises
  • Hybridity
  • Neighbourhood regeneration
  • Representation
  • Self-organization
  • Social enterprises

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