Trevor thumbnailTrevor McGlinchey, Executive Officer, New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services

More social services are being delivered by for-profit, commercially driven organisations. Over past years this has been most apparent in the provision of services for older people such as community based in-home care or residential based retirement homes.   More recently there have been increases in for-profit provision in early child-hood education, in supporting people with disabilities back into work and even providing foster care for Child Youth and Family.  Government is clear, it doesn’t care who delivers the outcomes, so long as they are delivered and reported on then that is all that matters.  For government contracting agencies commercial organisations are easy to deal with, good at writing tenders and reporting their successes – so why not use them?

Many community organisations have been impacted by the change from community organisation delivery of social services to this move towards for-profit provision.  Funding for services which would have normally gone to the community based sector is now being diverted toward commercial organisations, capable of delivering the outcome efficiently and achieving a profit for their owners.   So long as the service is provided to the ‘service user’ and an outcome is reported, what is the problem?  In the eyes of government agencies they have achieved what was required, the outcome has been reported and value for money was delivered.

But has real value for money been achieved?   Do people live in isolation from their communities?  Without strong and capable communities will the outcomes actually be sustainable in the long run?    What happens for the family or individual once the service provider is no longer funded to work with them?   Will the outcome be life-changing or just last long enough to be able to claim the payment for the services delivered?

The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services recently published Outcomes Plus – the added value from community social services , Nielson with Sedgewick and Grey, 2015), a research study focussing on what value community-based organisations offered.   This study examined the “organisational specific capital” common to community organisations and identified how this capital contributed to increasing “community value”.  The three components of community value are defined as, “community cohesion”, the ability for whanau and families to identify with, be involved in and be mutually supported by their communities; “community development”, communities are engaged with and own their developmental projects and processes; and, “community empowerment”, the ability for communities to identify and achieve their own outcomes and results.

Cohesive, developed and empowered communities in turn provide interdependent mutual support to their members.   This type of support results in long-lasting outcomes contributing to families making real and positive progress in their lives.   When considering effective and sustained outcomes, when measuring real value for money, the Outcomes Plus – the added value from community social services research demonstrates the need for government to look beyond flash tender writing and surface level reporting of outcomes achievement.   In order to gain full value for every dollar of public expenditure (once organisations have demonstrated the ability to deliver the required outcomes) government agencies must ask, “What is the whole contribution of the organisation to ‘community value’ and through strong communities to sustained, positive outcomes for whānau and family”?