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Green Business

Involving social enterprise stakeholders in the design and implementation of a data collection exercise on social enterprises in Ireland

Case study of the Department of Rural and Community Development, Ireland

Image of a person with a computer analysing data.
Campaign Creators, unsplash

Procurement category: Research.

Social impacts targeted: Use of specific criteria that allowed the inclusion of expertise brought by social enterprise stakeholders throughout the performance of the contract.

Relevant EU legislation/policy/guidance: Article 18.2 and Article 67 of Directive 2014/24/EU / Social Economy Action Plan.


The Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) was established in July 2017 to provide a renewed and consolidated focus on rural and community development in Ireland. In 2019, the Department published the National Social Enterprise Policy 2019-2022 which seeks to create an enabling environment for social enterprise in Ireland to grow and contribute to Ireland’s social and economic progress. One of its measures has the objective of improving data collection on the social enterprise population in the country. DRCD has found that lack of data, or more specifically no reliable estimate on the number of social enterprises and the sectors in which they operate in Ireland, has impeded efforts such as the development of supports for social enterprise and raising awareness of the sector. Establishing the size, reach and impact of social enterprise in Ireland was essential to inform future policy development.

Procurement objectives

The procurement objective of this tender was to commission the design of a comprehensive data collection process/methodology to establish the size and scope of the social enterprise population in Ireland, and to present a comprehensive report on the size, scope and nature of the social enterprise population in the country.

The national policy commits DRCD to engaging with social enterprise stakeholders on a regular basis to achieve shared ownership and operational delivery of the policy. For this reason, since 2020 DRCD has engaged with social enterprise stakeholders to identify issues which need to be considered when collecting data on social enterprise in Ireland. Examples of identified issues are: ensuring stakeholder buy-in in the exercise; applying the social enterprise definition and importance of inclusiveness; legal status of organisations surveyed, as in Ireland social enterprises can take many legal forms; starting with a broad baseline; and utilising people/organisations on the ground to maximise response rate and considering issues around survey fatigue. These issues were taken into account in the preparation of the tender.

Tender requirements

The tender documents refer to the horizontal social clause (Article 18.2 of Directive 2014/24/EU): the successful tenderers and their subcontractors (if any), were required to comply with all applicable obligations in the field of environmental, social and labour law that apply at the place where the services are provided, that have been established by EU law, national law, collective agreements or by international, environmental, social and labour law listed in Schedule 7 of the Regulations.

Tenders were evaluated on the basis of the most economically advantageous tender: 80% of the total scoring was given to the quality criterion and 20% to the cost criterion. Out of the award criteria that were used, one criterion regarded the skills and experience of the team performing the contract, and another criterion requested a partnership approach with Social Enterprise stakeholders. The award criteria used were the following:

  • Approach and Methodology to Service Delivery, and contract management (35%);
  • Quality, Relevant Experience, Understanding of Social Enterprise in Ireland, and Availability of Resources of Proposed Team/Consortium (25%);
  • Partnership and collaboration with Social Enterprise stakeholders (20%);
  • Price (20%).

As the data collection exercise required buy-in from social enterprises, it was deemed critical that the service provider could ensure a partnership approach with relevant stakeholders at all stages of the exercise. Tenderers also had to show they had on-the-ground familiarity (including at local level) and experience with social enterprises.

The successful service provider was required to deliver a two-stage stakeholder driven project to the contracting authority:

Stage 1 – To design a comprehensive data collection process/methodology, in collaboration with social enterprise stakeholders, to establish the size and scope of the social enterprise population in Ireland.  Specifically, the methodology was to capture the following essential elements:

  • Number of social enterprises in Ireland;
  • Regional spread;
  • Primary sectors of activity;
  • Nature and levels of staffing;
  • Approximate traded income levels.

Upon satisfactory completion of Stage 1, Stage 2 – To conduct the first National Social Enterprise baseline data collection exercise in collaboration with social enterprise networks, present a preliminary report with headline findings followed by a comprehensive report about the scale, scope and nature of the social enterprise population in Ireland.

Both Stages 1 and 2 required partnership and collaboration with one or more social enterprise networks, ideally placed to provide ground level support and guidance due to their familiarity with and knowledge of the sector. Tenderers were expected to provide details of the nature and scope of their planned collaboration with social enterprise networks and demonstrate their understanding of the broader social enterprise ecosystem.

In its tender documents, the contracting authority reiterated its policy to encourage participation on a fair and equal basis by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in this competition. SMEs that believed the scope of this competition was beyond their technical or business capacity were encouraged to explore the possibilities of forming relationships with other SMEs or with larger enterprises. Larger enterprises were also encouraged to consider the practical ways that SMEs could be included in their proposals.


According to the contracting authority, the criteria used, some of which included social aspects, worked very well, as this brought the necessary expertise on social enterprises from the outset, and did not hinder participation of economic operators in this procurement procedure.

Four applicants submitted a bid, out of which three included a social enterprise stakeholder in their consortium. The scoring was very close, with less than 1% separating the top two, and less than 5% separating the top three.

The Contracting Authority estimated that the expenditure on the services to be covered by the proposed service contract may amount to some up to €100,000 (excl. VAT) over the term and any possible extensions. The duration of the contract was one year, with the possibility to extend the term for a period or periods of up to one year with a maximum of two such extensions on the same terms and conditions. The contract was slightly extended, because there were delays due to Covid-19.

Social impacts

Before completion of Stage 1, a series of consultation meetings took place with a Technical Advisory Group (TAG), chaired by DRCD, and which included social enterprise representative bodies and third level institutions. The role of the TAG was to review and provide observations on the process or methodology developed. DRCD had to approve the process/methodology before progression to Stage 2.

The baseline study was published in May 2023. This study found that the social enterprise sector in Ireland comprises 4,335 organisations. There are approximately 8.5 social enterprises per 10,000 inhabitants. 68% of social enterprises are concentrated in four sectors: Childcare; Community Infrastructure & Local Development; Health, Youth Services & Social Care; Heritage Festivals, Arts & Creative Industry. 57% of social enterprises are in urban areas (8.3 per 10,000 inhabitants) while 43% are in rural areas (10.5 per 10,000 inhabitants).

The study was used as a source in the OECD in-depth policy review ‘Boosting Social Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise Development in Ireland’ that was published in November 2023. It is also being used by the Irish authorities for the development of the next National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland that will be published in 2024 and will include measures on socially responsible public procurement.

Lessons learned

The main lesson for the contracting authority was that as this procedure relied on the engagement of the social enterprise sector, it was necessary to design a procurement procedure that was inclusive of the sector. This was made possible by including a specific criterion that allowed the inclusion of expertise brought by social enterprise stakeholders from the very beginning of the contract.

It was crucially important to include as many stakeholders as possible in the process, so the role of the Technical Advisory Group was vital. It was important to the contracting authority to involve all those with relevant experience, and this included many of the organisations who had bid unsuccessfully for the tender.

To monitor the contract, the contracting authority held regular meetings with the consortium, which took place fortnightly until after the survey was launched.

The partnership approach with social enterprises and other stakeholders l helped to ensure buy-in from the sector. This also led to a very good response to the survey that was launched, with 800 completed responses, an approx. 20% response rate across the sector, demonstrating the high regard for the project.

More information

Article 18.2 and Article 67 of Directive 2014/24/EU / Social Economy Action Plan.

Visit the website of the Department of Rural and Community Development.