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Civil Society and Social Movements Programme Paper 2: Civil Society Organizations and Service Provision

4 Apr 2001

  • Authors: Andrew Clayton, Peter Oakley, Jon Taylor


In the 1990s, civil society organizations (CSOs) emerged as influential actors in national development. In the provision of basic services, in particular, CSOs have 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, efficiency and sustainability.

The study examines issues that can influence the CSOs: the nature of the contracts that CSOs have with governments to provide services; local legislation affecting CSOs' ability to provide services; and how CSOs can influence governmental policy. A key influence on CSO involvement in service provision is the relationship with government. This is critically reviewed in the context of the notion of partnership.

A number of issues are reviewed that are at the core of CSO involvement in service provision: (i) performance, and the ability of CSOs to improve efficiency in partnership with the state; (ii) the extent to which CSOs are more accountable to international donors than to the poor; (iii) the influence of decentralization of government and how this affects CSOs; (iv) the dilemma between CSOs' commitment to service provision and their ability to play a broader role in development; and (v) the potential for CSOs to 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.

Andrew Clayton is Senior Policy Officer for Asia at Christian Aid. Peter Oakley is Research Director, and Jon Taylor is a Research Assistant, at INTRAC.

Order PP CSSM 2 from UNRISD ($5 for readers in the North; $2.50 for readers in the South).