The Three Sector Solution

  • Authors: John Butcher
  • Published Date: 18 July 2016

Our new monograph on delivering public policy in collaboration with not-for-profits and business is available free from the ANU Press website. Here, the book's co-curator Dr John Butcher describes the ‘third wave’ of policy delivery in which government, not-for-profits and business work together for public purposes.

In August 2015 ANZSOG, in partnership with the Curtin Not-for-profit initiative at Curtin University, held a workshop to explore the dimensions of ‘cross-sector working’ at the Australian National University. This somewhat awkward term is a kind of shorthand for deliberate, purposive relationships in which actors in the public, not-for-profit and private sectors join their efforts in the public interest. It is intended to convey something more than ‘cooperation’, or ‘collaboration’ and embraces ways of working across sector boundaries that respect and make the best use of the particular strengths of different sectors.

Australian governments are today faced with an economic, social and political environment in which public revenues are stagnant or declining and expectations about the delivery of public goods and services are increasing. In the post-war boom government progressively colonised the delivery of public goods and services—in some respects this amounted to a ‘nationalisation’ of social provision. This was followed by the adoption of approaches based on market-testing, outsourcing and contracting. Today, governments are realising the limitations of the ‘contract state’ and are searching for more creative ways of applying the experience, knowledge and capability of a wider array of actors to pressing problems in public policy.

This ‘third wave’ of policy delivery in which government, not-for-profits and business work together for public purposes, will need to accommodate a more elastic concept of ‘risk’, embrace new forms of shared governance, and encourage experimentation and innovation. Crucially, policy actors from all sectors will be obliged to engage in a meaningful conversation with constituencies of need. Where, in the past, public policy interventions were ‘done to’ or ‘done for’, in the emerging policy environment policy delivery will be ‘done with’ end users and communities.

The workshop brought together policy scholars, practitioners and thought leaders whose collective experience spans government, the not-for-profit sector, and business to address these issues, grouped around four emergent themes: cross-sector working - the rhetoric and the reality; three sectors - three change agendas; great expectations - outcomes and social impact; and new tools for policy makers and practitioners.

A new edited volume based on the workshop, curated by myself (ANZSOG/ANU) and David Gilchrist (Curtin University), seeks to establish a new beachhead for applied policy research and policy practice at the frontier of cross sector working. The contributors to this volume address diverse topics of interest to policy scholars, policy makers and policy practitioners including: the need for profound change in public sector culture and governance, the recent history of policy reform, impediments to private sector investment in social impact, the implications of person-centred funding, the promise (and disappointments) of measuring outcomes, the failings of contractual governance, and the potential for alternative approaches to the realisation of public benefit such as alliance contracting or mutualism.

The editors of The Three Sector Solution are confident that readers with an interest in the challenge of finding new ways to work across previously firm sector boundaries will find something of value in its pages.

Three Sector Solution