1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Civil Society and Social Movements

Civil Society Organizations and Service Provision



Civil society organizations (CSOs) emerged in the 1990s as increasingly influential actors in national development. In one area in particular—the provision of basic services—CSOs have in many countries assumed a major responsibility. This study identifies and analyses the operational lessons concerning CSOs and service provision that have emerged to date. The analysis is based on a range of criteria: targeting the poor, quality of services provided, efficiency and sustainability.

The study also examines a number of broader issues that can influence the performance of CSOs in service provision: the nature of the contracts that CSOs have with governments to provide services; government legislation affecting CSOs’ ability to provide services to the poor; and how CSOs can use their work in service provision to influence policy.

A key influence on CSO involvement in service provision is the relationship with government, and this is critically reviewed in the context of the notion of partnership. In this respect the study finds that CSOs need to ensure that they are able to maintain their own distinctive contribution to development and not merely become contracting agents of the state.

Finally, the study summarizes a number of critical issues that will continue to be at the core of CSO involvement in service provision: (i) performance, and the ability of CSOs to improve access, coverage, quality and efficiency in partnership with the state; (ii) the accountability of CSOs in terms of service provision, and the extent to which CSOs are more accountable to international donors than to the poor whom they are supposed to serve; (iii) the influence of current trends to decentralize government bodies, and how this affects CSOs; (iv) the dilemma between CSOs’ commitment to service provision and their ability to play a broader role in economic and social development; and (v) the potential for CSOs to broaden the focus of their work in service provision and integrate a more rights-based approach.

The study concludes with a number of key policy issues for governments and official agencies in relation to CSOs and service provision.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Oct 2000
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8178
    From: UNRISD