The strength of the Four Lenses Strategic Framework is that it reveals inherently greater complexity in social enterprise operations, management, and strategic decision making than what has been addressed to date in social enterprise methodology or the literature. Like an onion, the framework peels back layers, exposing deeper and deeper levels of dynamics within the social enterprise that must be managed internally while simultaneously managing interactions with a changing external environment.

Overall, practitioners are concerned with managing synergies and tensions between sustainability and social impact. This “big picture” image of a social enterprise’s broadest goals is often depicted with a scale showing social impact on one side and sustainability on the other. Beneath the so-called “double bottom line,” the next level of performance indicates that rather than simply gunning for impact and sustainability, practitioners must coordinate, manage and balance their efforts around four measures of performance: depth of impact, blended value, efficiency and adaptability.

The next layer of analysis in the framework demonstrates that to achieve performance outcomes, practitioners must scrutinize performance criteria through four different strategic perspectives: stakeholder engagement, resource mobilization, knowledge development and culture management.

At the final level the framework examines synergies and tensions that occur within each strategic lens as well as between lenses that effect performance outcomes. Here, the framework illuminates that performance is continually challenged in the complex world of the social enterprise, and as a result practitioner decisions often entail operational tradeoffs and concessions in order to achieve strategic performance objectives.

In conclusion, the Four Lenses Strategic Framework is an attempt to offer a model that accounts for the complexity of the social enterprise and lays the groundwork for a comprehensive performance methodology. While the framework integrates social enterprise best practices from various schools of thought, it shuns simple dualistic views of the black and white social enterprise. Instead, its unique and essential contribution to contemporary performance methodology is its holistic examination of the social enterprise. In doing so, the framework regards social enterprise performance as the aggregate of a complex network of internal systems that function individually as well as interdependently to achieve a high performing whole.

For a social enterprise to be successful, internal systems must be impeccably managed and maintained along with their often subtle, multifaceted, and inextricably linked mutually-dependent relationships with one another. Moreover, this complex internal environment of the social enterprise must be managed against the backdrop of a dynamic market environment. Thus the framework serves to navigate practitioners through an intricate and potentially delicate strategic and management decision making process, which includes assessing ramifications of certain decisions on performance and social enterprise operations.

The aim is that social enterprise practitioners will use the framework as a mainstay to assess performance, inform strategic decision making, and direct routine management in order to achieve the desired results of sustainable social impact. In its current form, the framework is a flexible tool for analysis that can be used to assess and measure how well a social enterprise is performing vis-à-vis its targets, and it can also be incorporated into strategic planning exercises. We fully expect the Four Lenses Strategic Framework to change and evolve over time, spurring new and more robust applications and simpler tools. At this point, the most critical element toward strengthening the Four Lenses Strategic Framework is to engage practitioners in its development. The hope is that this framework provides adequate common ground around challenges and performance criteria to convene a discussion about performance among an extremely heterogonous audience of social enterprise practitioners.

We believe that the promise of social enterprise is twofold: not only does social enterprise offers new ways of tackling age old social problems, but it also offers a new paradigm for social organizations to improve their effectiveness. The purpose of this framework is to support the social enterprise community by developing an integrated performance methodology to help practitioners achieve efficient, adaptive, strategically-minded organizations capable of simultaneously creating economic wealth and social value and addressing root causes of social problems in order to achieve deep, lasting social impact.