The departure for this research was the authors' reaction to the lack of literature on social enterprise performance analysis and methodology. The other key impetus was the absence of practitioner participation in flagship exercises to define social enterprise and set an agenda for the field (these were largely dominated by funders and academics). Consequently, all primary research for the Four Lenses Strategic Framework came directly from social enterprise practitioners.
The authors used a combination of 'bottom up' action research that actively engaged practitioners in assessing social enterprise performance and analyzing information needs; defining performance criteria and strategic lenses; giving feedback on the performance process and application of the methodology; and providing examples. Through partnerships with social enterprise support intermediaries (Great Bay Foundation, PACT, SEEP and CARE), the authors sponsored several surveys and focus groups and conducted personal interviews. Extensive field research was undertaken to apply the framework and then to develop the cases in the US, India, Tanzania and Kenya.
The research was intended to build a practice-to-theory model for social enterprise performance. Thus, save for advisory board members' involvement to plan the process, rudder the research, and to critique products, all research was drawn directly from practice.