Project: Social Enterprise Census 2015
Service Area: Social Research
Client: Scottish Government and partners
Duration: 8 months

The Brief

Scotland has a long history of pioneering forms of business including mutual, co-operatives and social enterprises. These reflect a belief in a fairer, more equal society where business activity is a means to an end; not an end in itself. So how many social enterprises are there in Scotland? What do they do? What contribution do they make? These are all obvious questions, but ones that have always proven difficult to answer. The search for better evidence led to an ambitious, partnership-based project – the Social Enterprise Census 2015. It developed in the Scottish Government’s official, biennial count of social enterprises across the nation.

Our Inputs

Independently conducted by the team at Social Value Lab, the Census research required some innovation and considerable legwork. The main aspects were:


  1. The development of a comprehensive database of social enterprises. This involved cross-matching, verifying and filtering data from over 30,000 organisations to identify a population of 5,199 Scottish social enterprises.
  2. A full and objective financial review. Financial data from publicly available accounts and other sources was obtained and analysed for 3,794 social enterprises (73% of all).
  3. A large-scale Census survey. Administered online and through telephone interviews this obtained 1,100 unique responses from social enterprises.
  4. A report. We collated, analysed and triangulated data from the various sources and produced our report. This was designed to tell the story in a clear and compelling way using narrative, numbers, and infographics.

The Results

So what’s been achieved? This ground-breaking research has produced the most comprehensive snapshot yet of the scale, characteristics and contribution of the social

enterprise sector in Scotland. The evidence produced serves to reinforce the view that Scotland is a world-leading nation in its support for social enterprise and in its recognition of social enterprise as a fairer and more inclusive way of doing business. Crucially, the research has kick-started the debate on how best to grow the scale and impact of Scotland’s social enterprises.

Some Feedback

“This excellent report confirms the scale and vital contribution of social enterprise to society and to the economy in the Highlands and Islands and to Scotland as a whole. Social enterprise is a business model that helps tackle social issues, promote equality and achieve sustainable economic growth. These are the reasons that we attach so much importance to social enterprise and are working with social entrepreneurs to strengthen leadership, innovation and the business dimension of their enterprises. Working together in this way will help achieve our shared ambition to grow the social enterprise community year on year.”

Rachael McCormack, Director, Strengthening Communities, Highlands and Islands Enterprise

Download a copy of the full report here.