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Are Mental Models Shaping SSE Reality? Conceptualizing, Measuring and Evaluating SSE Performance

10 Apr 2013

Are Mental Models Shaping SSE Reality? Conceptualizing, Measuring and Evaluating SSE Performance
This is part of a series of think pieces by scholars and practitioners working on a broad range of issues within the field of Social and Solidarity Economy. The series is being published in conjunction with the UNRISD conference “Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy”. The conference took place on 6-8 May 2013 in collaboration with the International Labour Organization and the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service.

Using the results of action research conducted by the author, this think piece explains the potential and limits of a tool for conceptualizing, measuring, and evaluating SSE performance, based on a common understanding of SSE indicators. Upon determination of strategic dimensions of a shared vision of SSE, an evaluation tool was developed by constructing indicators for each dimension and providing a performance scorecard. The Asian Solidarity Economy Council (ASEC) pilot tested the evaluation tool on a limited scale of 15 case studies: nine from Indonesia, five from the Philippines and one from Cambodia.

The action research illustrated the usefulness of supply chain analysis in SSE performance evaluation and its advantages over the individual enterprise method of analysis. But the evaluation tool could still be improved. ASEC welcomes the collaboration of other organizations and networks in extending the action research to other countries.

Benjamin R. Quiñones, Jr. is Chairman of the Asian Solidarity Economy Council and Executive Coordinator of RIPESS (Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social and Solidarity Economy). He completed a PhD in Organization Development (OD) at the Southeast Asia Interdisciplinary Development Institute (SAIDI) in 2012.

Mental models and shared visions of SSE

Mental models are concepts, definitions and frameworks that provide an explanation in someone's thought process for how something works in the real world (Morgan, 1998). A mental model is how we imagine the real world and interpret it. Around the world, mental models of social and solidarity economy (SSE) are mushrooming as the search for resilient and inclusive development intensifies. There is a need to better understand the common components of these mental models of SSE. These can then be used to improve the measurement and evaluation of the performance of SSE organizations.

In an effort to improve our understanding of SSE, the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social and Solidarity Economy (RIPESS) Board in March 2011 started assembling SSE concepts, definitions and frameworks used across continents and countries. Some define SSE in terms of a chain of economic activities, from input supply, to production, distribution and consumption, undertaken by organized groups of individuals. Others emphasise the social development goals of SSE such as social inclusion, resilience and the democratization of the economy. The physical form of SSE is often depicted in terms of activities undertaken by cooperatives and mutual-aid associations. Yet many new forms of mutual cooperation outside the cooperative movement (for example collective kitchens, joint purchase associations, self-managed enterprises,) are springing to life as globalization brings about widespread marginalization of workers and small producers.

In many cases, the mental model does not perfectly fit the SSE realities. How do we improve the fit? Do we start measuring and evaluating concrete performance and adjust the mental models to the realities? Or do we attempt to construct a global vision of SSE with which to benchmark SSE performance?

This paper offers to shed some light on these issues by using action research conducted by the author to explain the potential and limits of a tool for conceptualizing, measuring, and evaluating SSE performance, based on a common understanding of SSE indicators.

Crystallizing the SSE shared vision

The American Heritage Dictionary defines 'vision' as a mental image produced by the imagination. A shared vision can motivate people to undertake collective action. As Peter Senge (1990), author of The Fifth Discipline, puts it: “A vision is truly shared when you and I have a similar picture and are committed to one another having it, not just to each of us, individually, having it… Shared visions derive their power from a common caring.”

The author of this think piece attempted to crystallize a shared vision of SSE in Asia by conducting action research aimed at determining: a) the personal SSE visions of 63 sample individuals working for NGOs, cooperatives and private companies, and b) the common components of these individual visions.

In a focus group discussion, the respondents identified 33 descriptors of SSE based on their personal visions. The respondents then classified the descriptors into five groups, referred to as the ‘strategic dimensions’ of SSE, namely:
  • Socially responsible governance: SSE policies and governance practices that guide and enable SSE stakeholders to protect the environment and meet their development goals in a sustainable way and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.
  • Edifying values/ethical principles: ethical principles that bind stakeholders to a concerted effort to demand and achieve their development goals and which prioritize the welfare of people and planet over profits and unsustainable growth.
  • Social development services to the community: services provided by SSE stakeholders to enhance the capacity of local citizens to maintain a dignified, sustainable way of life.
  • Ecological conservation measures: steps or measures undertaken to maintain environmental protection.
  • Economic sustainability: stakeholders make economic contributions that increase the financial sustainability of SSE enterprises.

Of the 33 mental model attributes, 16 comprised what can be seen as the shared SSE vision. At least two-thirds of the respondents cited each of the 16 descriptors as being part of their individual SSE visions. The 16 descriptors are shown in Table 1.

Measuring and evaluating SSE performance

These 16 attributes belonging to the shared SSE vision were used as the basis for the performance indicators, intended to measure the coherence between ideal models and concrete practices. A scorecard was assigned to each of the performance indicators, as follows:
0 - not practiced;
1 - weak practice;
2 - strong practice.

In this way, a tool for evaluating SSE performance, known as the 5-dimension SSE framework, was constructed. It was formally adopted at the Asian Solidarity Economy Forum (ASEF) Indonesia (Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 1-3, 2012) and at the Asian Forum Philippines (Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines, October 26-27, 2012).

ASEC pilot tested the evaluation tool‘s usefulness on a limited scale of 15 SSE case studies: nine from Indonesia, five from the Philippines, and one from Cambodia.

Findings and Results

The action research revealed the crucial role of change agents in advancing the concept and practice of SSE. Change agents for SSE have emerged in some Asian countries (for example, Universiti Sam Ratulangi in Indonesia, the Jaringan Masyarakat Ekonomi Malaysia, and the On Eagle’s Wings Development Foundation Philippines Inc.). The action research also showed the importance of creating a learning environment (such as the Asian Forum and country level forums) where like-minded individuals can exchange ideas and share experiences. The Asian Forum serves as a medium for communication and feedback. It allows participants to consolidate their vision of SSE, to ascertain the gap between shared vision and current practice and to take appropriate actions to close the gap.

Evaluation results (see Table 1) show that SSE models from the Philippines and Cambodia garnered high performance scores, ranging from a low of 1.40 to a high of 1.78 (the highest possible score is 2.0), and did comparatively better than most SSE models from Indonesia. A major reason for the Indonesian low scores is that they were largely privately owned and managed small enterprises and microenterprises.

The evaluation tool did not only rank attributes of the vision of SSE, but also ranked the performance of stakeholders in the supply chain in terms of the five dimensions of SSE. A supply chain is a system of organizations, people, technology, information and resources involved in transforming raw materials into a finished product or service and in moving the product or service to the end user. A value chain consists of the activities undertaken by various units of the system that add value to the product or service. Although the evaluation tool could be used to measure the value-added contribution of each stakeholder to the supply chain’s total product value, this exercise was not done in the action research as it would require more time and resources than were available. It would certainly be interesting to know whether the stakeholders’ contribution to the achievement of SSE vision attributes is directly related to its contribution to the supply chain’s output and sustainability.

A relevant insight is that not all enterprises involved in an emerging SSE supply chain qualify as ‘triple bottom line’ organizations, which value social development, ecological conservation and economic sustainability. Nonetheless, supply chain analysis does shed light on the role of different types of organization, including for-profit companies, in the overall development of SSE.

The supply chain of enterprises, assumed to be the smallest unit model of the SSE system, is the unit of analysis for SSE evaluation. The advantages of the supply chain analysis include the following:
  • The supply chain represents a multi-stakeholder model of solidarity, risk sharing, and shared human responsibilities that are required to meet people’s needs. Supply chain analysis objectively portrays SSE as a collective action that includes and benefits both the poor and the non-poor.
  • Supply chain analysis helps to understand the complexity of social and economic relationships among stakeholders within a given enterprise as well as between the various enterprises involved in the supply chain.
  • Supply chain analysis allows one to locate the cost burden of institutional change as the value chain transitions from a purely economic or financial orientation (profit maximization) to the triple bottom line of social development, ecological conservation, and economic sustainability.

Conclusion and Recommendation

The action research reported on in this paper has investigated the potential and limits of the ASEC evaluation tool for conceptualizing, measuring and evaluating SSE performance, given a shared vision as a point of reference. It illustrated the usefulness of the supply chain analysis in SSE performance evaluation and its advantages over the individual enterprise method of analysis. But the evaluation tool could still be improved.

ASEC welcomes the collaboration of other organizations and networks to extend this action research to other countries. A collaborative effort in this direction would truly contribute to a broad, participatory creation of a global vision of SSE, which incidentally will be the main agenda of the 5th RIPESS International Meeting of Social and Solidarity Economy to be held on October 15-18, 2013 in Manila, Philippines. It is hoped that this paper can make a modest contribution to this highly challenging global process.

Table 1. A shared vision of SSE: 16 common indicators (Indonesia, Philippines, and Cambodia)


GEG: Gapoktan Esa Genang Group of Farmers
KUD: KUD Wirawasta Jaya
UDR: UD Rizki Cakalang Tuna Fish
CVR: CV D’ Roa
GRP: Gerabah Pulutan SM
PPB: Pengrajin Pot Bunga SME
IVR: Ivo Handycraft
VSM: Vase Store MTC
PPM: Aba Ms

FID: Rice Farmers Integrated Development Assistance Program (FIDAP)
CSS: Coco Sugar Supply Chain
CBC: Community Based Coffee Agribusiness Program
OSC: Onion Supply Chain
FRC: Free Range Chicken supply chain

SEP: Pioneering social enterprises in Baray District, Cambodia


Kawano, E. 2011. Differences and convergences in social solidarity economy concepts, definitions and frameworks. RIPESS Working Paper Sept 10, 2011.

Morgan, G. 1998. Images of organization. The Executive Edition. Berret-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.

Quiñones, B. R. 2012. Organization development findings its way through the Bayanihan Learning Journey. Unpublished PhD thesis. Antipolo, Philippines: SAIDI School of Organization Development.

Senge, P.M. 1990. The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. Currency Doubleday, New York.


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This article reflects the views of the author(s) and does not necessarily represent those of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.