Social return on investment in the public sector

Rob Vluggen, Relus Kuijpers, J. Semeijn, C. Gelderman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose–Social return on investment (SROI) is a systematic way of incorporating social values of differentstakeholders into public sector decision-making on sustainability. This study aims to identify salient factors that influence SROI implementation.
Design/methodology/approach–The interactions of four Dutch municipalities and their social enterprises were examined, by analyzing relevant documents and interviewing key actors.
Findings–External forces appear to have little influence on SROI implementation. Management systems, legal restrictions in relation to privacy and the administrative burden appear to hinder SROI implementation. Findings suggest that trust among the parties involved and their representatives is a major driver for SROI development. SROI is not measured well enough, which complicates analyzing and reporting its development.
Research limitations/implications–Achieving collaboration through trust is a characteristic ofstewardship theory, and therefore useful for studying social sustainability. Combining agency and stewardship theory provides useful insights concerning the application of control mechanisms versusempowerment.
Practical implications–Barriers can be overcome by informing and engaging suppliers in SRO Iinitiatives. Furthermore,findings of this study suggest that it is easier for municipalities to incorporate SROI when social firm activities are insourced. An independent procurement function stimulates SROI development. Engaged professionals can make the difference in SROI policy implementation, more so than written policies.
Social implications–SROI enables social sustainability. SROI can be used by public agencies to provide meaningful activities for the long-term unemployed and underprivileged adolescents.
Originality/value–The study is the first empirical work that relates public procurement to SRO Iimplementation and its effect on suppliers. The findings provide valuable insights into government influenceon social enterprises.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-264
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Public Procurement
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2020


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