Social impact reporting and social investment

  • Social impact reporting as reputation management: Effective practice, symbolic adoption or business-washing? This paper examines the increasing use of business-style language by UK social purpose organisations (SPOs) over the last decade, focusing in particular on the use of social impact reporting (SIR). Using interviews with 21 staff at SPOs and an analysis of the websites of 128 SPOs, it reports three key findings and makes two theoretical arguments. First, it finds that SIR is primarily intended as a signal of financial competence to social investors, thereby serving as a tool for managing the reputation and legitimacy of the SPO in the eyes of its financial stakeholders (Neu et al., 1998; Ebrahim et al., 2014). Second, heterogenous styles and degrees of adoption of SIR were observed, often with limited, if any, internalisation of practice (Meyer and Rowan, 1977; Bromley and Powell, 2012). Some cases of this variation appear to result from semantic widening (Bloomfield, 1983) whereas others result from disingenuous reputation management activity, which I label ‘business-washing’

  •  The impact of "impact": The effect of social impact reporting on staff identity and motivation at social enterprises and charities in the UKThis study uses interviews with 26 staff at 25 social enterprises and charities to examine the effect on staff motivation of the recent trend towards the use of social impact reporting in social enterprises and charities. The contribution of this study is to extend the work of Bromley and Powell (2012) on means-end decoupling by drawing links to “identity work” (Brown and Toyoki, 2013) through which staff discursively construct their identities and the legitimacy of their activities. In forging this connection, the study introduces a new form of decoupling: language-means-end decoupling that refers to the deflection of an organization from its objectives even for practices which are merely linguistic. This occurs because a new linguistic scheme can affect the self-identity and job legitimacy of staff by re-describing their activities in economic and objective rather than moral and subjective terms.

  • Talking across purposes (sic): The challenge of translation in social investment. This study identifies a failure of translation between the linguistic communities of investors and social organisations which form part of the market for social investment. This is particularly noticeable for language relating to capital structures and performance reporting. The fact that investors an social organisations are unable to use accounting terminology as a lingua franca for the purposes of inter-community contracting presents significant difficulties for organisations attempting to structure and execute social investments and subsequently measure their success. Institutional responses to this problem have included the development of standardised metrics as a means of providing an effective translation manual, yet these projects appear not to have resolved the issue. Drawing on work in accounting and in the philosophy of language, I suggest possible explanations for the persistent lack of inter-translatability between these two linguistic communities.

  • Standardising the social. In this paper, I investigate the recent attempts by a transnational organisation, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), to develop new impact reporting and investment standards known as IRIS, which incorporate both financial and social data relating to the reporting entities. The GIIN describe this development as a response to the concerns raised by social investors about the absence of an accepted taxonomy of impact terms for social organisations. Using evidence collected from interviews with key individuals involved in the standard development project, I analyse attempts by standard setters to ensure procedural legitimacy for the standards and the potential network effects in their diffusion. Furthermore, using the framework developed in the work of Botzem and Dobusch (2012), I explore the relationship between input and output legitimacy in this case. 


  • Group agency, collective attitudes and intra-group deliberation (with J. McKenzie Alexander) 

  • Reading between the lines: The complementarity of qualitative and quantitative methods for research into the lobbying of standard setters.  In this paper, I argue that the explanatory value of the quantitative analysis of lobbying of standard setters is enhanced if it is supplemented with qualitative analysis. I question the adequacy of research that employs purely statistical analysis to explain lobbying behaviour and regulatory outcomes. I replicate many of the statistical tests carried out by Giner and Arce (2012) as part of their study on the lobbying of the IASB on a new data set of 333 comment letters regarding the IASB project to revise IAS 37. An interpretive documentary analysis combined with interviews of key individuals, both at the IASB and at organisations that wrote comment letters, reveals salient factors that shaped the outcome of the project. These factors could not have been uncovered by the statistical analysis of comment letters alone. The findings of the qualitative research lead me to question the validity of some of the implicit assumptions made by researchers engaging in quantitative research in this area. This paper highlights methodological concerns with a reliance on potentially unrealistic implicit assumptions in quantitative research on comment letters, particularly when the theories of lobbying are not predictively accurate (Friedman, 1953; Musgrave, 1981). 

  • What constrains the publication of accounting standards? : An analysis using qualitative comparative analysis. The aim of this transnational study is to expose the environmental conditions that constrain standard setters in their attempts introduce new standards. Focusing on the increased use of FVA, one novel aspect of this study is its use of qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) to explain the outcomes of 11 FVA standard setting projects, spanning three jurisdictions over three decades for different types of accounting item. QCA aims to establish the particular combinations of causal factors that are jointly necessary for a specified outcome, straddling qualitative and quantitative approaches by usinga form of counterfactual analysis that is particularly suitable for small data sets (Ragin, 1987). This study uses evidence from 24 interviews with board members and senior technical staff of accounting standard setting institutions (US, UK and IASC/B) in addition to senior figures in institutions involved in the standard setting process. Access to these key individuals, over and above the use of archival sources of evidence, offers important insights into the reasons why standard setters were able to publish certain standards when they did and why they were unable to complete other projects.