Social impact measurement in nonprofit sector has been an important issue for several years (Paton,2003, Liket & Maas, 2011). It can be asked by external stakeholder for accountability reasons (Ebrahim, 2003), but can also serve internal needs (Carman & Fredericks, 2008). Social impact measurement is at the border between internal and external issues of nonprofit organisations. It can also be seen as a management tool. In that perspective, it seeks to simplify the activity described, but tries also to explore this reality and needs to keep a sufficient level of complexity (Moisdon, 1997).
Our research focuses on the process by which social impact is actually measured in nonprofit organizations, while few scholar work adopt this perspective. We seek to understand on the one hand the influence on the evaluation process of the positioning of social impact measurement at the border between internal and external issues, and on the other hand the ways through which processes and results of social impact measurement achieve both simplification and complexity keeping.
The methodology is based on a action-research in a French non-profit organization. Empirical data comes from two case studies. The different steps of each process are highlighted, categorized into two types: closing movements that reduce the activity to particular forms, and opening movements that broaden instead the spectrum of evaluation.
Findings show that external expectations match with the closing movement, while the internal challenges match with the opening one. Moreover, we find that social impact measurement is a process where temporary imbalance featured by oversimplification or overly complexity is corrected by reverse movements in order to get a balanced result.
These results suggest the possibility of co-existence divergent objectives and logics within one social impact measurement, and emphasize the dynamic dimension of social impact measurement.