Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Keast, RL 2012, 'Juggling competing public values : resolving conflicting agendas in social procurement in Queensland', 16th Annual Conference of the International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPM XVI): Contradictions in public management managing in volatile times, Rome, Italy, 11-13 April, IRSPM.


Organisations within the not-for-profit sector provide services to individuals and groups government and for-profit organisations cannot or will not consider. This response by the not-for-profit sector to market failure and government failure is a well understood contribution to society by the nonprofit sector. Over time, this response has resulted in the development of a vibrant and rich agglomeration of services and programs that operate under a myriad of philosophical stances, service orientations, client groupings and operational capacities. In Australia, these organisations and services provide social support and service assistance to many people in the community; often targeting their assistance to clients facing the most difficult of clients with complex problems.

Initially, in undertaking this role, the not-for-profit sector received limited sponsorship from government, relying on primarily on public donations to fund the delivery of services. (Lyons 2001). Over time governments assumed greater responsibility in the form of service grants to particular groups: ‘the worthy poor’. More recently, government has engaged in widespread procurement of services from the not-for-profit sector, which specify the nature of the outcomes to be achieved and, to a degree, the way in which the services will be provided. A consequence of this growing shift to a more marketised model of service contracting, often offered-up under the label of enhanced collaborative practice, has been increased competitiveness between agencies that had previously worked well together (Keast and Brown, 2006). One of the challenges which emerge from the procurement of services by government from third sector organisations is that public values such as effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and professionalism can be neglected (Jørgensen and Bozeman 2002), although this is not always the case (Brown, Furneaux and Gudmundsson 2012). While some approaches to the examination of social procurement - the intentional purchasing of social outcomes (Furneaux and Barraket 2011) - assumes that public values are lost in social procurement arrangements (Bozeman 2002; Jørgensen and Bozeman 2002), alternative approach suggest such inevitability is not the case. Instead, social procurement is seen to involve a set of tensions (Brown, Potoski and Slyke 2006) or a set of trade offs (Charles et al. 2007), which must be managed, and through such management, public values can be potentially safeguarded (Bruin and Dicke 2006).

The potential trade-offs of public values in social procurement is an area in need of further research, and one which carries both theoretical and practical significance. Additionally, the juxtaposition of policies – horizontal integration and vertical efficiency – results in a complex, crowded and contested policy and practice environment (Keast et al., 2007),, with the potential for set of unintentional consequences arising from these arrangements. Further the involvement of for-profit, non-profit, and hybrid organisations such as social enterprises, adds further complexity in the number of different organisational forms engaged in service delivery on behalf of government.

To address this issue, this paper uses information gleaned from a state-wide survey of not-for-profit organisations in Queensland, Australia which included within its focus organisational size, operational scope, funding arrangements and governance/management approaches. Supplementing this information is qualitative data derived from 17 focus groups and 120 interviews conducted over ten years of study of this sector. The findings contribute to greater understanding of the practice and theory of the future provision of social services.

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