Event Details

May 19-20, 2014
SPES offices, Via Liberiana 17
Rome, Italy

Event Description

The Third Sector Project Conceptualization Working Group met in Rome, Italy on May 19-20 to formulate a common conceptualization of the Third Sector in Europe that can inform the work on other parts of this project. The working group includes seven of the project partners, and three Third Sector Stakeholders.

The Working Group began by confirming the following five criteria for any acceptable conceptualization of the Third Sector agreed to by the Consortium partners at their kick-off meeting in January in Bologna, Italy:

1. Sufficient BREADTH and SENSITIVITY to encompass as much of the enormous diversity of this sector and of its regional manifestations in Europe as possible;

2. Sufficient CLARITY to differentiate Third Sector entities and activities from four other societal components or activities widely acknowledged to lie outside the Third Sector: i.e. government agencies, private for-profit businesses, families or tribes, and leisure or recreational activities undertaken chiefly for one’s own enjoyment. Defining features that embraced entities or activities with too close an overlap with these components or activities would thus be discouraged;

3. COMPARABILITY, to highlight similarities and variations among countries and regions.

4. OPERATIONALIZABILITY, to permit meaningful and objective empirical measurement and avoid counterproductive tautologies; and

5. INSTITUTIONALIZABILITY, to facilitate incorporation of the measurement of the Third Sector in official international statistical systems so that the impact of the Third Sector can be routinely measured over time.

The meeting drew on the input of researchers in seven of the project’s partner organizations, who took responsibility for examining various regional, institutional, or individual-action manifestations of the third sector in Europe (i.e. associations and foundations, mutuals and cooperatives, social enterprises, and various forms of individual or informal activity, including direct volunteering, participation in demonstrations, self-help groups, and the like) by completing 9 field guides. These field guides sought a bottom-up view of the various manifestations of what could potentially be included in a consensus definition of the third sector in Europe. The field guides then asked the researchers to evaluate a hypothesized tentative definition of the third sector in Europe against their findings. This was done in order to provide a common framework against which to compare the different regional, institutional, or individual third sector manifestations.

This strategy worked well and yielded some exceptionally perceptive insights into the state of thinking about third-sector type institutions and activities in Europe. Drawing on these field guides and subsequent conversations, the working group was able to find agreement on five definitional features for identifying organizational units that are “in-scope” of the Third Sector in Europe, and a similar set of features to define the individual activities that belong within the project’s conceptualization of the third sector. One outstanding issue left for further research and decision related to the precise way to operationalize the most difficult of these definitional features, the concept of limitation on profit distribution as a key defining feature of the Third Sector. A follow-up field guide has consequently been shared by the working group to seek guidance on the workability of several optional specifications of this particular feature.

The meeting was convened by TSI member Lester Salamon of Johns Hopkins University. Participants were researchers from seven TSI partner institutions and European third sector umbrella organisations like Social Platform www.socialplatform.org, Concord www.concordeurope.org and the European Volunteer Centre www.cev.be.

The Meeting Report, meeting poster announcement, agenda and list of participants are available for download below.