The third sector in unsettled times: a field guide

Working paper 109 (August 2013)

Organisations across the third sector have been facing radical political and economic upheaval. This research looks at case studies from our Real Times project to examine how organisations navigate these changes. Third sector organisations can be seen as operating within different ‘fields’, where actors seek to advance their interests amidst certain rules. These fields can be based on locality, policy domain or industry (i.e. advice or housing), or the third sector as a whole.

This paper examines three broad strategies of organisations – restructuring and redundancy, mergers and acquisitions, and repositioning and branding. While diverse, these strategies are designed to preserve or advance ‘room’ to operate within multiple fields. These strategies may be more or less immediate or urgent. For example, restructuring often responds to an immediate need for cost saving, while repositioning and rebranding represents a slightly longer term process. Merger appeared to be a ‘last resort’, highlighting the importance for third sector organisations of maintaining identity and control.

The research suggests that organisations are involved, in diverse ways, in an on-going struggle to combine their purpose, role and contribution with organisational survival. They do this by negotiating their position within different fields, and in relation to other organisations in that field.

Research contacts:
Rob Macmillan, Rebecca Taylor, Malin Arvidson, Andri Soteri-Proctor, and Simon Teasdale