Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Third Sector in Transition-A Question of Sustainability for Community Service Organizations and the Sector?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Third Sector in Transition-A Question of Sustainability for Community Service Organizations and the Sector?

Article excerpt

Third sector organizations are transitioning towards entrepreneurial and managerial models as a result of quasi-market strategies. This paper reports on the research findings of a survey of nonprofit disability organizations in Queensland and Victoria and the impact of quasi-market reform. Enterprising organizations were found to have made substantial change to organizational structures and systems, whilst more traditional organizations made few changes. All organizations demonstrated a commitment to a social justice ethos. However across the organizational archetypes there were reports of an organizational 'fragility'. It is argued that the problems of community service organizational sustainability that existed prior to quasi-market reforms remain. This implies community service organizations will experience ongoing difficulties in the post-market era without further rationalization and change. A conceptual framework for sustainability is presented at the policy and organizational level for the community services sector.

Introduction

Sustainability is a concept not often associated with the community service sector. This is curious given community service organizations experience ongoing issues of financial viability and questionable levels of adequate organizational capacity. It is also curious because community service organizations play such an important role as social institutions in building capacity of individuals and community and collective efficacy around societal problems. Perhaps it is assumed that community service organizations don't really have to think about sustainability because government will always be there as a protectorate. Or maybe it is because the third sector hasn't really had a crisis of confidence yet, unlike many industries in the private sector such as the petroleum and mining industries that have been forced to rapidly embrace sustainability. Traditionally, sustainability has been the preserve of the environmental movement but as indicated all that is changing. The dimensions of sustainability embrace economic, environmental and social policy considerations (Harrison 2000). More recently governance has been included as a further dimension of sustainability (RMIT 2002). The process of sustainable development examines the interaction of the dimensions to ensure that the choices that are made, conserve and enhance the community's resources so that total quality of life can be increased now and in the future (Australian Government 1992). On the surface these dimensions and the process of sustainable development would appear relevant to the third sector.

In retrospect, it is regrettable that sustainable development was not considered as a policy approach hand-in-hand with the quasi-market reforms of community service organizations during the 1990's. Quasi-marketisation as applied to the welfare and community services industry involved the implementation of strategies such as the commercialization of services and products (Salamon 1993), the introduction of quality improvement processes and benchmarking (Sedgwick 1995) and the entry of for-profit service providers to the industry (Brown et al. 2000). Other features of quasi-marketisation have included shifts to a performance culture based on results (Boxall 1998) and shifts to markets as the preferred form of governance (Rhodes 1997). Quasi-market policy changes have also involved separating the purchaser and provider roles and the use of legal contracts to specify these new roles and performance requirements (Eardley 1997). The major thrust of quasi-market policy was economic for the purpose of increasing efficiency. A secondary consideration was improvements to the quality of customer service. Quasi-market reform traded off the policy relationships between economic, social and environmental outcomes. At a programmatic level, the planning of quasi-market strategies largely ignored issues of capacity of the existing service delivery systems and organizational capacity to implement reforms. …

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