- Year of publication
- Angela Ellis Paine and Rob Macmillan , TSRC
Abstract There is much debate and a developing body of research concerned with the implications of third sector organisations engaging with commissioning processes associated with public service delivery. Much commentary and analysis is highly critical of commissioning and its effects, and more generally tends to portray third sector organisations as either fragile and at risk or in need of reform and modernisation. By drawing on contrasting case studies of voluntary action through a qualitative longitudinal study, this working paper explores the nuances involved for third sector organisations in understanding, navigating and negotiating a complex commissioning environment. After describing the commissioning experience of our four case studies, we focus on five cross-cutting themes: rules, resources, refocusing and restructuring, relationships, and re-thinking the problem. We conclude that while commissioning is no doubt challenging for voluntary organisations, particularly smaller ones, they are not passively responding to their environment but developing a range of tactics to navigate the landscape, and to actively challenge and shape it.
Methd The first phase of the study, ‘Real Times’, involved 15 case study sites and ran from 2010-2014. It focused on broad questions of the changing fortunes of and challenges faced by a range of voluntary organisations.
Conclusion The current commissioning environment is no doubt challenging for voluntary organisations, particularly for smaller organisations which lack the resources to be able first to fully assess and understand the context, and then to make the most of the opportunities it provides. Voluntary organisations are occupying different positions within the commissioning landscape and these positions are not static – while some organisations may be favoured in some circumstances, others are favoured in others. As the stories of our case studies attest, however, voluntary organisations are not passively responding to an external commissioning environment but are acting strategically, by adopting a range of different tactics and strategies, to both navigate and shape it.
Further, however, our case studies suggest that while commissioning can clearly be problematic, to focus so intently on it may distract us from a more fundamental issue of resource constraint. The difference between grants and contracts may not be as great as often presumed; and if resources (of different kinds) were more plentiful, commissioning might work better. In a resource-constrained and increasingly intense competitive funding environment, many of these issues may arise even in a primarily grant-funded context.
More fundamentally by focusing on the funding processes there is a risk of being distracted from the devastation being caused by swingeing cuts to funding in the first place.
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