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Making Public Service Markets and the Role of the Third Sector: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives

Wed, July 11, 9:00 to 10:30am, Room, 2A 33

Session Submission Type: Roundtable Discussion


The project of public service reform in ‘advanced’ countries including the UK, Australia and the US has been underway for upwards of 40 years, as a product of shifting political and public attitudes to the state, welfare services and public finance. Informed by the competitive tenets of new public management (NPM), successive governments have sought to restructure public services in the image of markets amidst a wider reorientation of welfare state functions; and this has been accompanied by exhortations to further deepen third sector organisation (TSO) involvement in such ‘markets’.

For the third sector in the UK, this agenda – often associated negatively with the ‘contract culture’ in the 1990s – seemed to intensify through the ‘partnership’ era of New Labour, and has continued through the austerity-dominated years of Coalition and Conservative governments. The third sector has sat awkwardly amidst these developments, and has been drawn into soul-searching debates about its own role in such reconfigured public services (Rees and Mullins, 2016). Debates have been characterised by narratives of necessity and transition on the one hand, as marketisation offers third sector organisations access to new sources of income and opportunities to play enhanced roles in service delivery. Yet marketisation has also been characterised by jeopardy and loss, reflected in narratives of mission drift and risk associated with commercialised relationships with the state, competition with for-profit organisations, and the repositioning of service users or constituents as consumers.

Tensions relating to the role of the third sector in public service markets continue today, although their theoretical underpinnings are perhaps a little dated, and have not fully accounted for newly emerging market mechanisms, such as consumer-based funding models or financial instruments such as social impact bonds. Further, nuances across national contexts and service delivery areas have not been fully explored. We suggest that it is time to re-examine the third sector’s position in new public service markets. The aim of this Roundtable, then, is to understand the dynamics of public service ‘market’ arrangements involving the third sector, in terms of how they are framed, shaped, accomplished and ‘unsettled’ – in diverse international and public service contexts. The discussion will be guided by two overarching research questions: ‘how are public service markets involving the third sector organised, understood and framed?’; and ‘how are third sector participants positioned in public service markets?’


1. James Rees: Beyond the 'marketisation' paradigm: theoretical tools for approaching the creation of markets
2. Natasha Cortis: Non-profits in new social care markets: the case of Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme
3. Billie Sandberg: Investigating the Marketization of the US Nonprofit Sector: Insights from a Comparative Case Study of Two Nonprofits in the Pacific Northwest
4. Discussant - Rob Macmillan

The roundtable will be organised in three parts:

1. three speaker presentations/provocations, each ending with a question to stimulate discussion, followed by reflections from the discussant (40 minutes)
2. open discussion following the presentations (40 minutes)
3. a round-up and assessment of the research agenda ahead (10 minutes).

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