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Towards an Evaluation Framework for the Social Economy: Typologies and Effects

Concept paper written for the WSSE Dakar, Senegal meeting (Nov 19-21, 2005).

Marie J. Bouchard, Jérôme Leblanc, Valérie Michaud, octobre 2005

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Résumé :

How best can we evaluate the specific facets of the social economy (SE)? Two observations can be made: (1) there are myriad evaluation practices, corresponding to the diversity of the sectors of activity and the types of public that these target; (2) very few evaluation criteria examine aspects specific to the social economy and, where they do, they also vary from sector to sector, and organization to organization. However, there is increasing demand for evaluations to be performed, both on the part of social economy stakeholders and public authorities. The first challenge when it comes to evaluation of the social economy is to manage to distinguish the sector itself. There is little data on the social economy, and what there is is scattered amongst organizations and ministries, making it impossible to arrive at an overall assessment of the sector. The second challenge concerns the development of indicators that adequately reflect the truth of the special characteristics of the social economy. The fact is that the dual social and economic mission of the social economy is hard for conventional evaluation tools to register. Finally, the third challenge surrounds institutional recognition of the social economy, and evaluation may be an inevitable step along the path. It is therefore important to acknowledge that evaluation has a political dimension. It involves choices that impact variously the object of the evaluation, the viewpoint of the evaluator, the identity of the evaluator, and the stakeholders who receive the results of the evaluation. It also, from an academic standpoint, impacts the various evaluative studies (statistical, monographs, qualitative surveys, etc.) that provide an excellent tool for improving knowledge and understanding of the social economy. As a consequence, that which is not evaluated risks passing into the unknown and, thus, risks being ignored by public policies, financial partners, public opinion, etc. One of the important steps in the future will be the choice by actors from the social economy of the dimensions and effects that they wish to see evaluated. This step will require negotiation between social economy actors themselves, and between them and the public authorities.