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They just don’t understand us!’ Learning and reflection from commissioning relationships in the mixed economy of care

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Susan Baines, Professor Rob WilsonORCiD, Professor Mike Martin



Abstract Policies driven by central government in England have sought to bring about a stepchange in the quality of interaction between government and third sector organisations. In practice this usually means ensuring that the sector shares responsibility with state agencies for delivering local services to those in need. Indeed, the role of the third sector has become a key strand of the drive to improve public services (HM Treasury 2007). From the perspective of many third sector organisations (TSOs), contracting for public service delivery can help to ensure reliable income and the opportunity to influence policy. Nevertheless, there are concerns that funding in the form of contracts for services specified by state agencies brings significant challenges and threats. TSOs may struggle to preserve their missions and associated values in the face of government initiatives to transfer services out of the public sector (Brinton 1994; Blackmore 2006). It has been claimed that delivering public services can mean working towards ‘a bureaucratic mandate laid down by the state’ (Hodgson 2004:140) and that commissioning opportunities may tempt under-funded TSOs to re-orient themselves from social to market goals (Haugh and Kitson 2007). In the face of all this TSOs increasingly need to comply with demands to evidence their worth (Harris et al 2003; Paxton et al. 2005; Moxham and Boaden 2007; Nichols 2007). While debates about public service delivery have been energetic and vehement, the evidence base for impacts upon those TSOs that participate is patchy. In this paper we overview some of the data and policy implications from a recently completed study entitled Delivering public services in the mixed economy of welfare: Putting research into practice5 (September 2007 – March 2008). This was funded under the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) ‘Impact Grants’ scheme, which is intended to promote practical learning from research. There are two sets of data: case studies of TSOs that deliver services for older people under contract to public sector agencies; and a series of facilitated workshops in which representatives of third sector organisations and public sector commissioners participated together. We examine how the case study organisations represented their experiences of change and growth in response to new opportunities for contracts to deliver public services. Then we discuss interactions between the third sector and public sector, and in particular the challenges confronted by TSOs in demonstrating the value they bring to services in ways that make sense to public sector funders.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Baines S, Wilson RG, Hardill I, Martin MJ

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: NCVO/ VSSN Researching the Voluntary Sector Conference

Year of Conference: 2008

Date deposited: 22/12/2009

Publisher: National Council for Voluntary Organisations