What do the data really show? Where should we draw the lines?

My colleague Rob Reich and I have been writing about the social economy for several years now.

My Blueprint series - heading into its 7th year - changed its name to focus on the social economy in its 2nd year (2011). The basic point of the social economy frame was to shift people's myopic focus on nonprofits and foundations to the much more complicated, and interesting, set of dynamics that is at work in our communities.  Both commercial and nonprofit organizations (as well as co-ops, collectives, informal networks and other organizations) provide social and environmental benefits. We need to consider the whole economy, and its intersections and interactions, to really see where "good comes from."

Two books out from University of Toronto provide some data on the social economy in Canada and in the United States. I hope these authors will continue to track these data. In the Fall I hope to begin helping a team in Brazil try to make some sense of that country's social economy, with particular attention to civic engagements and democratic participation.

It's likely that these changes are not happening uniformly across all of the "verticals" in which nonprofits have worked in the past.
  • The arts, for example, has long been a robust mixed economy of cultural organizations, movie studios, indie films, public broadcasting, informal street art, underground collectives, and other stuff. Health care is such a strange mix of nonprofit and for-profit that a New Jersey judge recently ruled nonprofit hospitals a "legal fiction."
  • This article on breast milk banks in Oregon caught my eye. There's a service I knew little about. 
  • Recent research on hospice care also documents how those services morphed over several decades from the purview of hippy-dippy, new agey nonprofits to a $17 billion industry full of private-equity owned commercial conglomerates. 
  • I just had a great conversation with a civic tech friend who introduced me to the messy mix of commercial and nonprofit vendors working with public data and selling platforms back to governing agencies. 
  • We've heard a lot lately about for-profit colleges, which enrolled more than 20% of all American college students in 2011.  
It would be very helpful if we had data that could show how this was playing out in individual industries, by geography, and nationally (internationally).

What other issue areas, business or service verticals do you know of that are a dynamic or surprising mix of nonprofit and commercial services? Where do you get the data to track them?

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