A Strategic Unity: defining the Third Sector

Briefing and working paper series: 24

Academics, policy makers and practitioners often stress the need for definition to inform analysis and policy. This briefing paper explores recent debate on the identification of a ‘third sector’ of organisational activity in the UK.

The paper reviews some leading academic models which have sought to locate this sector alongside others, and then examines attempts to identify the sector as a focus for policy and practice. The importance of policy discourses in shaping debate and constructing definition is explained, and the potentially fractured nature of these discourses is explored. These are then contrasted with discourses from practice. A distinction is made between exogenous and endogenous approaches to definition, and the implications of each are discussed.

The article identifies a strategic unity within discourse in the UK over the last decade. It argues that this has been effective in constituting a unified third sector within policy and practice, albeit one with underlying diversity.

The full working paper for this research was published in Voluntary Sector Review, a new journal for third sector research, policy and practice. It is available here , as well as through the online journal, which is offering 12 months free access. See voluntary sector review .

Research contacts
Professor Pete Alcock