Work Area Description

A first task in gaining a better understanding of the European third sector and its existing and potential contributions to European socio-economic development is to clarify the concept of the third sector in its European manifestations. Considering the enormous diversity of types of entities potentially embraced by this concept and the wide variety of terms used to depict it, this task is far from easy.

Definitions of the third sector share certain common attributes:

  • They are all institutionally separate from government though they may have varying degrees of close working relationships with the state;
  • They all enjoy a significant degree of self-governance;
  • They all embrace some meaningful degree of voluntary involvement.

Research literature on the third sector outlines at least four “clusters” of third sector manifestations, but not only is there considerable debate among these different clusters about what entities or phenomena deserve to be included, there is also considerable conceptual disagreement within the clusters.

Objectives and Goals

Third Sector Impact rises to the challenge to find a commonly agreed on conceptualisation of the third sector in Europe.  A definition should meet the following criteria:

  • Sufficient breadth to embrace the full range of entities and activities widely considered to be part of the third sector in Europe;
  • Sufficient clarity to differentiate this set of organizations and activities from other major types of social units, such as for-profit businesses or units of government;
  • Operationalizable enough to permit the development of cross-country comparative data on this sector and its various components by member-nation statistical agencies;
  • Sufficiently consistent with existing European statistical usage to be feasible to deploy in practice in the near term.
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