Social justice, social enterprise and the market: Challenge or opportunity?

Dr John Butcher (ANZSOG Adjunct Research Fellow) recently addressed the Australian and New Zealand Third Sector Research Conference. His presentation offered expert reflections on the practical challenges of cross sector collaboration, and outlined the contribution of his recent (free to download) ANZSOG/ANU Press book The Three Sector Solution: Delivering public policy in collaboration with not-for-profits and business

You’ll appreciate, I’m sure, that ‘collaboration’ is not a new or emerging theme in public policy discourse. That said, in practice collaboration is often more ‘aspirational’ than ‘actual’.

In 2007 a report by the Australian Public Service Commission characterised collaboration as "a win-win view of problem solving" and ‘collaborative strategies’ as "the best approach to tackling wicked problems which require behavioural change as part of their solution". The same report cautioned that "collaboration can end poorly—dialogue can turn into conflict, hardened positions and stalemate".

Moreover, the report acknowledged that "public sector institutions and structures were, by and large, not designed with a primary goal of supporting collaborative inter-organisational work" and that it is "challenging enough’"to foster collaborative cultures "within hierarchical, vertically structured organisations", let alone between organisations or sectors.

In Collaborative Governance: A new era of public policy in Australia? (2008), then-ANZSOG Dean and CEO Allan Fels observed that "governments across the developed world are preaching the gospel of collaboration, cooperation and coordination, and are realising that their objectives cannot be achieved without collaboration with others".

"The big question", he suggested, is whether the rhetoric is "matched by the reality or are governments merely mouthing platitudes? Do they really mean what they profess; do governments talk of collaboration genuinely and meaningfully or do they do so partially and largely with their own interests at heart? Do their actions indicate that they are serious and, if so, what cultural changes are necessary, what changes are under way and what changes will be required in the future?"

Nearly a decade later these questions still demand answers.

Dr Butcher addresses the conference

Dr Butcher addresses the conference

And in large part, our book The Three Sector Solution represents a further attempt to bring some intellectual and practical discipline to our thinking about cross-sector working. The book’s 17 chapters are organised according to four broad themes:

  1. Cross-Sector Working: The rhetoric and r=the reality
  2. Three Sectors: Three change agendas
  3. Great Expectations: Outcomes and social impact
  4. New Tools For Policy Makers & Practitioners

Peter Shergold sets the scene by reflecting on the lessons he learned from the implementation of ambitious policy initiatives like the Job Network. His prologue "Three Sectors, One Public Purpose" offers a thoughtful rumination on the importance of cross-sector collaboration for the resolution of complex problems in public policy. He challenges conventional thinking and advocates for an authorising environment that embraces experimentation, and accepts the benefits of risk-taking and the possibility of failure.

Cross-sector working - rhetoric and reality

In Part 1 Helen Dickinson, David Gilchrist and Tessa Boyd-Caine explore the key drivers of – and the barriers to – multi-sector collaboration. Helen Dickinson’s chapter interrogates claims made in the academic literature about a purported shift away from transactional governance towards relational governance. Although Dickinson concludes that there is evidence of such a shift, she cautions that we have yet to fully understand the implications for the kinds of skills and abilities that public servants will need to operate within more hybridised forms of public sector governance.

In his chapter, David Gilchrist presents findings from a three-year evaluation of Western Australia’s Delivering Community Services in Partnership Policy. This policy framework was intended to provide the basis for a renewed settlement between government and the community services sector and Gilchrist’s chapter carefully considers whether the policy has delivered on its stated aims and describes the on-going challenges faced by the not-for-profit sector in WA.

Finally, Tessa Boyd-Caine explores the ways in which not-for-profit organisations seek to address problems of democratic deficit by enabling the participation of those experiencing social exclusion. Drawing on insights gained in the course of a Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Nonprofit Leadership, Boyd-Caine considers the lessons Australian civil society might learn from their American counterparts.

Change agendas

In Part 2 Leeora Black, Krystian Siebert and Robyn Keast drill down into the critical policy areas of social investment, not-for-profit regulation and collaborative practice. In her chapter, Leeora Black takes stock of initiatives in government, and in the business sector itself, to create pathways for the investment of private capital in social purposes. She identifies a number of policy and structural obstacles to private social investment and suggests a range of opportunities available to government to promote such investment.

Turning to regulatory reform, Krystian Seibert’s chapter offers a retrospective analysis of the not-for-profit reform agenda pursued by the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments. Seibert emphasises the complexity and difficulty of the reform task – especially given the political turbulence of the times – and concludes that important achievements were made, almost against the odds.

Robyn Keast’s chapter rounds out the discussion by closely examining the various markers of successful (and unsuccessful) collaboration between government agencies and not-for-profit organisations. Keast points out that while ‘authentic’ collaboration is unfamiliar territory to many, far from being a ‘black box’, there is ample knowledge upon which we might draw to deliver successful collaborations.

Outcomes and social impact

In Part 3 Emma Tomkinson, Dale Tweedie, Rodney Scott and Ross Boyd lead us deep into the territory of outcomes and social impact.

Emma Tomkinson’s chapter considers the implications of the reporting burden placed by governments on not-for-profit providers of outsourced services. Drawing upon international experience, she examines the value of reporting for (as opposed to reporting by) not-for-profits and their government funders and looks at ways that the value-added can be increased.

Turning the focus to questions of accountability, Dale Tweedie highlights the potential ‘disconnects’ that can compromise a not-for-profit organisation’s capacity to be accountable for the quality and impact of their services, and explores potential responses to overcome them.

From across the Tasman, Rodney Scott and Ross Boyd offer a detailed account of the design, implementation and performance of the ‘Results approach’ operating across the New Zealand State Sector. They conclude that a Results approach, based on the collective accountability of multiple stakeholders for achieving targets and social impacts, has made a positive contribution to the framing of policy interventions for problems previously considered to be virtually intractable.

New tools

In Part 4 Ann Nevile, Cassandra Wilkinson, Melina Morrison and Cliff Mills, and Catherine Needham offer diverse perspectives on emerging thinking and practice.

Ann Nevile argues that the current contracting regime acts to constrain the capacity of disability employment service providers to deliver flexible, individualised services. She goes on to identify the policy pre-requisites for a more flexible, person-centred approach to individualised service delivery that will lead to better employment outcomes for people with a disability.

In a slight change of tack Cassandra Wilkinson’s chapter explores the potential of ‘alliance contracting’ as means to shape service delivery to the aspirations and preferences of end users. She proposes a model of ‘active collaboration’ between policymakers, providers and their clients based on an evidence-based, shared risk framework.

In their chapter Melina Morrison and Cliff Mills mount a case for Australian mutual and co-operative organisations to play a more substantial role as a pillar of public service delivery: becoming ‘providers of choice’ as market-based solutions and state-based command and control approaches become increasingly problematic.

Then Catherine Needham’s chapter examines the NDIS through the lens of experience in the UK where personal budgets for care have been a feature of the policy mix since the 1980s. Needham cautions that as the NDIS gathers momentum "it is vital that good quality information and advocacy are in place so that people with budgets can build relationships and communities and not just pick care items off a shopping list".

Finally, in a postscript based on his closing address to the workshop, Paul Ronalds addresses the ‘challenge of change’ drawing upon his personal experience in the senior ranks of the Commonwealth bureaucracy and as a senior executive in the not-for-profit sector. Ronalds identifies various sources of ‘systems failure’ and pays particular attention to the perverse incentive structures operating in the public, not-for-profit and business sectors that lead to sub-optimal social outcomes.

Topping and tailing all of the above are introductory and concluding chapters written by David Gilchrist and myself. I’m convinced this book makes a worthy contribution to policy deliberation and policy scholarship in this space.

The Three Sector Solution was the end product of a one-day workshop held at the Australian National University. It was published in July this year by the ANU Press in partnership with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government. Curated by John Butcher and David Gilchrist (Director of the Curtin Not-for-profit Initiative), it’s part of the ANZSOG series of monographs and occasional papers addressing diverse topics on public policy and administration.

Posted by @MsSophieRae