Event details

6 April 2016,
9am – 5.30pm
SPES Office
Via Liberiana 17,
Roma, Italy

Event Description

TSI consortium members came together to discuss progress in the project’s objectives and the agenda for its final year, culminating in the final event, scheduled for 9 November 2016 in Brussels, which will focus on policy recommendations and agendas, to be discussed with EU and national policy makers, statistical agencies and third sector stakeholders.

Annette Zimmer, Coordinator of research carried out on new challenges third sector organisations are facing, presented some of the findings on barriers. National reports, case studies and a summary of barriers for third sector networks working at EU level, as well as related policy recommendations, will be published in due course.

In brief, EU-level TSOs do not see much advancement of their role. Additional to an increasing market orientation of EU policies that drives the social economy but not the third sector policy agenda, there is a development away from participative and deliberative democracy, where TSOs play a major role, towards direct citizen participation (i.e. European Citizen Initiative). On the whole, TSOs are forced to concentrate around certain issues for which there is EU funding, creating a certain dependency. High administrative barriers to obtain EU funding in times of reduced public spending is also an issue. Among the recommendations for the EU will be the simplification of funding procedures, better coordination of DGs to cooperate with TSOs, and to support new national TSOs to jump to Brussels venue in order to keep the TS landscape vibrant. In the same vein, Brussels TSOs that have strong links to organisations working in member states should receive more support.

At national level there are differences within the sector between Nordic and Western countries compared to Southern and Eastern countries, where for e.g. the level of volunteering and private giving is lower. In Eastern countries there is even distrust towards the sector.

As far as third sector discourse in different countries is concerned there are certain trends: the sector does not play a key role in political discourse. In Britain, for instance, the sector was special focus of political attention under the labor government, but the Tory government decreased funding to such an extent, that at last younger initiatives are struggling considerably. In Germany public discourse focuses on civic engagement and volunteering. In France we see the sector playing a role in decentralization strategies. There is a general shift towards social entrepreneurship and legal stipulations that are trying to push the sector into the market, threatening a loss of the sector’s advocacy function. Also third sector organisations promoting arts and culture seem to be neglected by the European Union.

Key barriers linked to different drivers of change across countries of research are (to different degrees),

  • Lack of public and private funding, which leads to certain degree of marketization, albeit due to different external factors (withdrawing welfare stat, reduced public spending or general lack thereof);
  • Problems related to human resources in terms of recruitment of volunteers, who are less interested in taking on responsibilities and leadership functions, leading to difficulty in recruiting board members, resulting in professionalization pressure. Also employment conditions are unattractive, questioning the sustainability of the sector as significant employer that it currently is, employing a highly motivated and highly qualified work force;
  • Challenges related to external governance, as internal structures need adaptation to new external pressures, turning third sector organizations into corporations selling goods and services, which leads to new forms of managerialism.

TSI carried out case studies with organisations working in the fields of social services, sports and culture, investigating how they cope with new challenges. Adaptation strategies differ to some extent in each field. Generally TSOs react by building larger networks or umbrella organisations, providing services for smaller TSOs (i.e. administration, re-selling of products). Professionalization leads to some organisations to no longer work with volunteers, particularly in the filed of arts and culture. More third sector actors choose the cooperative form; revert to “value-for-money” strategies while trying to attract staff and volunteers by maintaining a “working for us is different” image. This development follows a similar trend as in the US.

This development leaves us with questions like: is the sector still a sector? Does it develop into an alternative economy? Does it still hold the characteristics usually associated with the third sector (flat hierarchies, self-organization, participatory governance). On the other hand there is a wealth of grassroots organisations, i.e. currently delivering services and advocacy work supporting refugees. What might look like the sector itself drifting apart is not so much a new phenomenon as such, but there is certainly less individual commitment to large welfare or leisure time associations like sports clubs. Grassroots third sector activism in all three fields is often local, less structured, on which no or little data exists at the moment.

Lester Salamon reported on progress on measuring the third sector. Tasks for researchers included:

  • Checking if TSIs conceptualization of the third sector matches the different legal forms of entities associated with the sector in each participating country;
  • Locating the different components of the third sector in our definition in national accounts data systems.

Partners will continue to work on enlisting national statistical agencies to implement data collection on defined third sector entities. Another objective of the project is to offer assistance in implementing data collection, i.e. by presenting the TSI definition to the United Nations Statistical Commission, which will be included in the updated version of the UN Handbook on Measuring volunteering. The aim is to make all third sector contributions to the overall economy visible, which means separate measures are needed not only of the number on voluntary or non-profit organisations, but also social enterprises or social cooperatives, that from part of the third sector, but whose activity is only captured as market activity or not at all.

Overall, looking at the TS workforce the majority is volunteers, but how much paid staff/ volunteers are working in social enterprises, for instance, remains in the shadows. TSI is producing estimates on TS activity in different societal fields based on the data available. Results will be published in a policy brief this summer.

Karl Henrik Sivesind finished the day with a round-up of the work on third sector impact. The objectives are to create knowledge on third sector impact and find consensus on impact indicators.

TSI gives an overview of research and knowledge available on how to measure and empirically analyse third sector impact and points out the lack of knowledge due to missing data and other blind spots. Several working papers and a policy brief were published on this. Striking at this point is the strong correlation between third sector impact and the type of welfare state in which the sector operates. The researchers involved in this working area will discuss further steps in a separate group meeting.