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Measurement and the Social Economy


The field of social and ethical accounting, auditing, and reporting (SEAAR) is attracting more and more attention, both from social economy organization practitioners and from researchers. There are many reasons for engaging in SEAAR, but four of the most common are: (1) to value the “social” and to render it visible (and thus useful for internal organizational purposes such as regular assessments of progress on commitments, or in strategic planning); (2) to respond to demands (and possibly legal requirements) to be accountable to outside agencies such as funders; (3) to report more comprehensively to members and/or other stakeholders on the performance of the organization; (4) to use in branding/marketing, risk management, and/or education and recruitment. Engaging in SEAAR requires that an organization articulate clear social priorities, develop measures to track achievements and to identify shortfalls in relation to these priorities, keep records (social accounts), audit these accounts, and report on them. Decisions about priorities, measures and record keeping can reflect a commitment to the evaluation of outcomes, not just outputs and thus intersects with the field of evaluation research (Brown, 2002). This section presents a brief overview of this topic.

Despite widespread assumptions about business priorities being economic and not social, this “conceptual firewall”, dividing the world into social and economic realms, is being challenged by new ways of thinking about business (Bornstein, 2007: x). Current interest in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one manifestation of this shift in our thinking, and raises important questions about measurement and the verification of results. Challenging the bifurcation of the social and the business is at the core of the Social Economy, where organizations have both social and economic priorities, conceptualized as interlocked and mutually reinforcing of the organization’s identity. CSR, socially responsible investing (SRI), environmental sustainability, income polarization, community development, concerns around valuing volunteerism - all these and more require attention to measurement and reporting.

It is widely recognized that traditional financial statements based on generally accepted accounting principles do not integrate social and financial performance measures (Hicks, Maddocks, Robb, & Webb, 2007; Mook, Quarter, & Richmond, 2007).  In part to fill that gap, many organizations now engage in some form of social and/or ethical accounting, auditing and reporting (SEAAR).  At present most organizations engaged in SEAAR develop social reports through a process quite separate from its financial reporting.  This often results in the social accounting being a poor cousin of financial accounting. Further, there are no generally accepted principles for social performance information, nor indeed any agreement on whether standardization is desirable or not. However, there appears to be an emerging consensus that SEAAR is desirable and even necessary for any organizations committed to social goals.

A growing literature offers tools and frameworks for recording and assessing social performance (Mook et al., 2007; Brown, 2002; Gray, Dey, Owen, Evans, & Zadek, 1997; Svendsen, 1997; Whitehead and Avison, 1999).  The Conference Board of Canada (2007) identifies a number of standardized guidelines, some (e.g. the Global Reporting Initiative; Accountability 1000) now into the second and third generation. Standard indicators allow comparability across organizations but may not fully address the specific priorities of any one organization.  At present it is common for organizations to use a combination of standardized indicators and indicators particular to the organization. However, there are still relatively few organizations, and especially few small organizations, that keep comprehensive and ongoing social accounts.


Brown, Leslie (2002). “Credit Unions and Community: Three Case Studies from the Social Economy.” Économie et Solidarité 33 (1): 93-111.

Bornstein, David (2007). How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas.  New York: Oxford.

Conference Board of Canada (n.d.). CR Assessment Tools.  Retrieved Sept 15, 2007 from  

Gray, Rob H, Colin R. Dey, Dave Owen, Richard Evans, & Simon Zadek (1997). Struggling with the Praxis of Social accounting: Stakeholders, Accountability, Audits and Procedures. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal. 10 (3): 325-364.

Hicks, Elizabeth, Maddocks, John, Robb, Alan, & Webb, Tom (2007). Perspectives on the Accounting and Reporting Needs of Co-operatives and Co-operators:  A Preliminary Examination.  Paper presented at the CIRIEC conference, Victoria, October 2007.

Mook, Laurie, Jack Quarter & Betty Jane Richmond (2007). What Counts:  Social Accounting for Nonprofits and Cooperatives. Second Edition. London:  Sigel Press.

Svendsen, Ann (1997). The Stakeholder Strategy. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Whitehead, Paul C. & William R. Avison (1999). Comprehensive Evaluation: The Intersection of Impact Evaluation and Social Accounting. Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation 14 (1): 65-83.

 In June, 2008, L, Brown, E. Hicks, and L. Mook organized a roundtable Measuring What Counts in the Social Economy, at a conference organized by the Association for Nonprofit and Social Economy Research (ANSER). This roundtable session brought together interested persons from both the academy and from social economy organizations to explore measurement issues in the social economy. The roundtable set the stage to collectively develop a focus for moving the field forward in the Canadian context. The questions addressed at the session were as follows:

 A.     What are the measurement needs as identified by the SE sector?

B.      What aspects of the social are captured by measures currently in use and to what effect?

C.     Issues around stakeholder engagement in the process of SEAAR and subsequent organization change.

Below is the list of presentations at the ANSER roundtable session, with links to the presentations. Following the list of presenters, we have provided links to seven social economy organizations which do social accounting and reporting. These are by way of example only.


Ms. Denyse Guy – Executive Director, Ontario Co-operative Association - Measuring What Counts in the Social Economy (pdf, 2564.87KB)

Ms. Barbara Groome-Wynne – Graduate Student Assistant, Institute of Island Studies, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown  -  Measurement Needs from the Perspective of Non-Profit Associations: An examination of funder requirements for social organizations on Prince Edward Island (pdf, 87.03KB)

Dr. Laurie Mook – Social Economy Centre, OISE, University of Toronto  -  One Approach to Social Accounting for Social Enterprises (pdf, 1300.67KB)

Dr. Leslie Brown and Ms. Elizabeth Hicks – Department of Sociology and Anthropology, & Department of Business, Tourism and Hospitality Management, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax -  Measuring what counts in the Social Economy Roundtable: What aspects of the social are captured by measures currently in use and to what effect? (pdf, 194.71KB)

Ms. Molly Hurd – Executive Director of Halifax Independent Schools, Halifax - The Halifax Independent School: Evolution of a Stakeholder Co-operative (pdf, 130.25KB)


Alterna Savings

“We are proud to be the first Canadian credit union to be established outside of Quebec. From the beginning, in 1908, it was the spirit of mutual effort, harmony and assistance that drove our founders to persevere as they realized their vision.”

“At Alterna Savings, we measure our success in many ways, such as day-to-day feedback from members, participation at our Annual General Meeting and our ability to financially support community organizations. Our financial performance is, of course, another important measure, as is our social track record.”

2008-2009 Accountability Report

2010 Community Report

2010 Annual Report


“The Co-operators Group Limited (CGL) is a Canadian-owned co-operative with over 65 years of history. Our member-owners include co-operatives, credit union centrals and organizations that operate using co-operative principles.”

“Our business decisions are guided by our co-operative principles, so the need for profitability is balanced with the needs of our member-owners and their communities. Making people a priority and taking a long-term view of business decisions makes The Co-operators fundamentally different from most insurance companies.”

Home Page

2010 Sustainability Report


 “We are the largest financial cooperative group in Canada. We offer complete banking services to nearly 6 million members and clients. We use the strength of cooperation not only to provide our members and clients with a wide range of banking services, but also to contribute to the economic and social development of their communities.


2009 Social and Cooperative Responsibility Report

Halifax Independent School

The Halifax Independent School, a cooperative since 1992 as Dalhousie Co-operative School, is comprised of a diverse group of educators, students and their families who are making every effort to achieve academic excellence through co-operative and theme-based study. To date, the report is internal and not available to the general public.  Check out their website!

NOTE: The Halifax Independent School is involved with Sub-node 5 research within the Social Economy and Sustainability Research Network. More information can be found on this research in the Sub-node 5 section of this website.

Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN)

A non-profit organization which focuses on families who have a member with a disability. The goal of PLAN is “to ensure a safe and secure future for your relative with a disability and, in the process, to provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind”. PLAN offers a quarterly newsletter on their website, which informs the public of issues that are important to this group. One such issue is that of RDSP’s (Registered Disability Savings Plan) which will provide financial peace of mind to individuals and their families, helping with enrichment, sustainability and productivity.  Check out their website and information section, What is a Social Audit?

Sustainability Solutions Group

2007 Sustainability Assessment – Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG) Workers Cooperative. SSG “is a workers co-operative that nurtures and embodies a holistic understanding of sustainability and works with clients and collaborators to meaningfully integrate social, ecological and economic practices in their organizations and work.”

The SSG is in its third year of operation and reports the co-op’s activities and practices in order to improve performance. Information is then shared to clients, partners, collaborators and the general public.  Check out their website and The 2007 Sustainability Assessment

Vancity Savings Credit Union

Since 1994, this organization has worked with individuals and communities in British Columbia “to help them thrive and prosper.” Vancity achieves this goal by providing financial products and services to their members, then sharing up to thirty percent of the earned profits through member dividends and investments made within the community.  Check out their website and Accountability Reports

Thanks to summer 2008 Communications Assistant Sue Pottie for her assistance in developing this page in consultation with Leslie Brown.