Greg MOLECKE is a PhD candidate and research scholar in the Strategy Department at the Grenoble école de Management. Greg received an MBA and a dual degree in English Literature and Philosophy from the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States. Prior to joining GEM, Greg also has over 10 years experience in project and program management, including work at a Fortune 50 media company, an energy company, a hospital, and a research university. His research focuses on issues surrounding business innovations aimed at aiding those at the economic Base of the Pyramid. Particularly, he researches how social entrepreneurs evaluate and make sense of their social impacts.
Social impact assessments have become an important accountability practice for social entrepreneurs to attract support and to gain better insights to optimize performance. Yet, social impact assessments, lacking a common unit of analysis or even definition of value, harbor ambiguities that cause frictions and conflicting demands amongst stakeholders. This dissertation exposes the essential dynamics behind three key elements that form and mold entrepreneur’s strategic handling of social impact and accountability demands: 1) the practices employed to construct social impact assessments despite resource constraints; 2) how one’s cognition of social impact accounts derives on specific forms of legitimacy judgments; and, 3) how the tensions experienced by social entrepreneurs and their stakeholders construct and bracket their contextual understanding of social impact. First, I investigate the practices social entrepreneurs use to enable social entrepreneurs to account for their impact with ideas and information that had been constrained, undervalued, or discarded by conventional impact methodologies. I find that social entrepreneurs used bricolage – the process of making-do with solutions patchworked together from undervalued but at-hand resources. Yet I found that social entrepreneurs required interpretive flexibility to do this; flexibility they obtained by arguing that more formal social impact measurement approaches were ultimately immeasurable, imprudent, incomplete, and/or irrelevant. Second, regarding cognitive judgments of impact, I investigate how and why social entrepreneurs choose certain element to include (or exclude) in their social impact assessments. I find that their choices revolve around each specific outcome’s ability to justify the enterprise's legitimacy according to one of two different types of legitimacy judgments: cognitive (how well an enterprise resembles established schemas for pro-social actors or roles in society) and evaluative (comparing options based on relative desirability). I next find that outcomes that appealed to evaluative judgments were predominant but relied almost exclusively on proxies based on financial and operational performance. This practice leads many social impact accounts to conflate financial and operational performance with social impact. Third, regarding the construction of context, I investigate how social impact assessments often expose the complex “mess” of multiple, multi-actor tensions that social enterprises face in their operations. I also observe how these tensions are often expressed as bi-polar tensions or paradoxes. This paper contributes a new concept – the “folding” of tensions – to describe how narrators discursively reduce complexity by temporarily aligning different constellations of actors and interests on either pole of a binary paradox. This paper bridges the theoretical gap between extant paradox literature which assumes paradoxes are bi-polar in nature and the non-binary, complex “mess” of tensions from which they are constructed. It further offers a pathway between different ways a paradox is discursively constructed (folded) and the way it is perceived and ultimately responded to.