Structures and Strategies in Relationships Between Non-government Service Providers and Government
Author: Richard Batley
Size: 14 pages (124 kB)
Do NGOs that collaborate with government in service delivery lose their autonomy and capacity for policy influence? Does the formalisation of relationships imply that NGOs are subordinated to government agendas? This study analyses NGO-government collaboration in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan in three services: basic education, healthcare and sanitation. It finds that, even where NGOs operate in constraining institutional environments and enter agreements with government, they are able to exercise strategic choices. They balance the need for financial survival, independence and commitment to their goals – including that of influencing government. At least for these NGOs, there is no contradiction between advocacy and service delivery.
Much of the literature on state-NGO collaboration in service delivery focuses on structures of power. It finds that the relationship establishes the precedence of government over NGOs, especially when in the form of a contract. A widespread view is that NGOs in a service delivery relationship with government effectively give up their autonomy by comparison with those that maintain their distance from government by adopting an advocacy role. Thus, NGOs are often seen as providers or advocates.
This research found that the structures that influence collaboration include government’s policy authority, the NGOs’ levels of financial independence, and the nature of the agreements they form with government. However, NGOs can re-interpret and even reverse structures of power. The case study NGOs pursued various strategies to balance independence, financial survival and commitment to their own goals:
The relationships of NGOs with government were less formal and hierarchical than at first appeared. They usually emerged from established informal relationships, and these remained an important basis of trust. In fact, the NGOs sought a role as trusted semi-insiders, and used this as a means of ‘persuasive advocacy’. As insiders, they had the opportunity to understand the constraints on and opportunities for change, and to develop convincing explanations for why change was necessary. While avoiding confrontation with government, NGOs exercised influence on both policy and practice by demonstration and engagement. Thus, engagement in service delivery embedded these NGOs in government, made them credible and gave them opportunities for influence.
NGO engagement in service delivery is often criticised as either marginalising/displacing the responsibility of government or undermining NGOs’ independence. While at the extreme these two threats exist, there are more subtle possibilities:
Batley, R., 2011, 'Structures and Strategies in Relationships Between Non-government Service Providers and Government', Public Administration and Development, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 306-319