Outlining the challenges of quantitative measurement, TSI coordinator Bernard Enjolras argues in this paper that multidimenional criteria are needed to capture the socio-economic impact of third sector activity, as outputs and outcomes of third sector organizations are more than those of for private for-profit enterprises activities. “The reason is that third sector organizations mainly generate outputs having a ‘public’ or ‘collective’ goods character”.

This working paper does not solve all these difficulties, but it proposes a theoretical model for conceiving how the development of the third sector at the aggregated level may produce positive impacts for society. It does so by analysing available data in order to find some empirical support to this explanatory model, measuring the third sector’s share of a country’s total workforce (including paid work and volunteering) and assessing it on several dimensions of quality of life at the macro (country) level.

This paper does not address issues of causality –  the existence of a causal impact between third sector activities and outcomes like health, well-being and political participation, even though the correlation between third sector activities and such outcomes is well established.