Over the last two decades, market-oriented reforms in human services have changed the landscape for Australia’s community sector. Commissioning has increasingly been directed towards enhancing competition, administrative efficiency and results-based performance, and service providers are expected to demonstrate their value in terms of ‘value for money’. Many struggle to balance these new priorities with their sociallydriven mission and purpose.
The current scenario is particularly challenging for smaller community organisations. While a provider’s size cannot be assumed to be the determinant cause of positive outcomes for service users, many practitioners and funders recognise that smaller, locally embedded organisations play a vital role in the community sector. Their advantages typically include a better knowledge of the local context and networks, nimbleness (ability to respond quickly) and more flexibility to tailor services in cases involving complex needs. However, in a competitive funding environment, there is a high risk that their full social contribution is lost.
This research is the first Australian qualitative study to explore ‘value add’ by smaller community service organisations, in the context of ongoing changes in the sector. Case studies were conducted with four non-profit providers of support to young people in their transition to work: YouthWorX NT (Darwin, Northern Territory), Joblink Midwest (Geraldton, Western Australia), Gen-Z Employment (Gold Coast, Queensland), and Schools Industry Partnership (Sydney, New South Wales). We drew on the inputs from young people using the services, and from staff, and investigated whether there was convergence between these two groups in what they perceived to be the value of the services.