Seeking the robust core of social entrepreneurship theory
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Seeking the Robust Core of Social Entrepreneurship Theory. Steven E. Wallis, Ph.D. Independent Organizational Consultant Fielding Graduate University Summer Session August 1, 2008, Kansas City, MO. Steven E. Wallis, Ph.D. A brief bio….

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Seeking the Robust Core of Social Entrepreneurship Theory

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Seeking the robust core of social entrepreneurship theory

Seeking the Robust Core of Social Entrepreneurship Theory

Steven E. Wallis, Ph.D.

Independent Organizational Consultant

Fielding Graduate University

Summer Session

August 1, 2008, Kansas City, MO

Steven e wallis ph d a brief bio

Steven E. Wallis, Ph.D.A brief bio…

Steven E. Wallis received his Ph.D. from Fielding Graduate University in 2006. His academic work focuses on “theory of theory” where he is pioneering insights and tools to support scholars as they create theory for more effective practice. Steve’s interdisciplinary interests span the social sciences. In addition to Social Entrepreneurship theory, he also works with institutional theory, organizational theory, knowledge management, and more. Dr. Wallis has ten years of experience as an independent consultant in Northern California. There, in a variety of industries, he supports consultants, trainers, and leaders on issues related to collaboration, communication, succession planning, creativity, and knowledge management.



  • The underlying theory has not been well defined for social entrepreneurship (SE)

  • Insights from complexity theory (CT) suggest a new view on the structure of theory

  • An interdisciplinary cross-section of SE theory is analyzed to determine an overall level of “robustness” (robustness is used in physics to describe the internal integrity of a theory)

  • On a scale of zero to one, this investigation found SE theory to have a robustness of 0.13

Social entrepreneurship is not well defined so

Social Entrepreneurship is not well defined so…

  • How might we define theory more clearly?

  • How might we test theory – before practice?

What is theory

What is “theory” ?

  • Conceptually similar to schema, mental model, frame for sensemaking, or lens to see the world

  • A set of interrelated propositions

    Begs the question…

    … How well interrelated are they?

Applying ct to understand a system of thought

Applying CT to Understand a System of Thought

  • Complexity theory suggests the importance of Mutual Causality & Interdependence

  • Because theory may be understood as a system, it may be possible to apply that general idea to the propositions within a theory

  • So… more interdependence of concepts suggests more validity of theory

More co causality between concepts makes a theory more robust

More Co-causality Between Concepts Makes a Theory More Robust

  • Low robustness is seen in a list of bullet-point concepts

  • Medium robustness is seen in linear causal propositions

  • High robustness is seen in Newton’s formula: F=ma



Highly robust theories of math & physics have shown more effective falsifiability & application than the low-robust theories of the social sciences



  • Investigate papers on social entrepreneurship to find concise propositions of theory

  • Identify those propositions that are co-causal or “concatenated” (concatenated propositions describe links between multiple concepts and multiple causalities)

  • Calculate robustness

    Robustness is the ratio of concatenated concepts - to all concepts

    (including linear & atomistic)

Abstractly is the proposition concatenated or not

Abstractly… is the proposition concatenated, or not?

  • A is true, B is true, C is true.

    These are atomistic truth-claims (not concatenated)

  • A causes B, B causes C, C causes D.

    These are linear truth-claims (not concatenated)

  • “A and B cause C”

    This is a “concatenated” relationship and so is considered more useful to this form of analysis

Concrete example

Concrete Example

Newton’s law of motion contains three claims:

  • Changes in mass and velocity cause changes in force

  • Changes in force and mass cause changes in velocity

  • Changes in force and mass cause changes in acceleration

  • There are three concepts (force, mass, acceleration) and all three are concatenated

  • Three divided by three equals one

  • So, Newton’s law has a robustness of one

  • It is highly robust and is used effectively

Social entrepreneurship theory

Social Entrepreneurship Theory

  • There are 23 concepts (identified as dimensions in the following diagram)

  • Three conceptual dimensions are concatenated (Environment, Change, and Social Entrepreneurship) because they emerge from two or more other dimensions

  • Three divided by 23 equals 0.13. Indicating: this theory has a robustness of: 0.13

Influences between dimensions social entrepreneurship theory

Dimension of Innovation

Dimension of Change

Seven causal dimensions

Dimension of Social Entrepreneurship

Dimension of Environment

One resultant dimension

Ten causal dimensions

Dimension of Opportunity

Influences between dimensionsSocial Entrepreneurship Theory

Paths to improve robustness

Paths to Improve Robustness

  • Drop extraneous concepts

  • “Close the loop” by identifying how existing concepts are causally related

  • Empirical testing (not indicated at this low level of robustness

Importance of creating robust version of se theory

Importance of creating Robust Version of SE Theory

  • More reliable / effectively useable (may be used to improve the world)

  • More falsifiable

  • Provides ability to see the “invisible” (and so develop greater understanding)

  • Fulfill the “promise” of the social sciences

To conclude

To Conclude…

  • The concept of robustness suggests great potential for advancing Social Entrepreneurship theory

  • Social entrepreneurship theory suggests great potential benefits for humanity

  • Let’s go!

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