The evaluation of firm results is a relevant issue which has been not completely deepened in the field of economic sciences. When dealing with social firms, the evaluation becomes problematic as they cannot be assessed using the most common measures of for-profit effectiveness, such as profitability or stock market performance because of their distinctive legal and financial status. Moreover, social firms have various goals, offer services that are intangible and are often based on social values about which there may be little or no approval. Specifically, different types of social firms require different evaluation parameters on the basis of their mission. According to the activity they carry out (work integration, educational services, care services, etc.) it is possible to define different “results”, “effectiveness” and “evaluation methods”.
The aim of the paper is to build a literature review on the evaluation of social firms, limiting the analysis to work integration social enterprises (WISE) whose objective is to include disadvantaged people in labor world through structured and ad hoc paths. Today the role played by WISE is more recognized than in the past, but it is still important to define its effectiveness compared with the goals of public administration, private and social enterprises’ systems. In order to accomplish this aim it seems useful to write a review that takes into account the different points of view, theories and praxis.
The methodology adopted here is based on the analysis of recent studies (1993-2008) focused on evaluation of WISE. We shared the analysis in three main parts: why it is important to evaluate, what to evaluate, how to evaluate. For the last issue both empirical and theoretical studies will be analyzed, for the others more importance will be given to theoretical researches.