Service Delivery

Introduction from Dr James Rees


Third sector organisations are increasingly important in the provision of a wide range of public services in the UK. This central role has developed rapidly, both under the previous Labour government and the Coalition government but it is not always well understood or evidenced, and is sometimes controversial.

It is therefore important that TSRC contributes to the debate, with rigourous academic research that is accessible to policy makers and practitioners. 

In 2010 Rob Macmillan carried out an evidence review which identified key issues for third sector involvement in public service delivery. It identified gaps in research, including the effect that the new commissioning landscape is having on the range of services delivered by the sector, and the new forms of partnership working entailed by public service delivery.

More: The third sector delivering public services: an evidence review

Current research

TSRC will build on the successful Work Programme research by exploring the role of the third sector in the wider landscape of employment services provision. The aim will be to better understand the range of employment service activities delivered by a range of third sector organisations; and to fully document the funding sources on which they draw. The research acknowledges that the Work Programme is not ‘the only game in town’, and will address a very important policy issue: can the sector respond to the increasing demands being placed on it by Government to assist people into employment, in an increasingly conditional and punitive ‘workfare’ regime?

The team will also conducts ongoing work into the delivery of services within specific sectors. Current work is taking place on: 

Health and social care

The Centre is conducting research on a number of aspects of the health and social care agenda, including personalisation, service commissioning, and social enterprise ‘spin-out’ services from the NHS.

Criminal justice

TSRC is examining the role and involvement of third sector organisations in the criminal justice system.


A broad programme of research is underway on third sector housing, which includes housing associations, cooperative and mutual housing, community and ‘self-help’ housing projects, and the role of social enterprise.

Critical understanding of service delivery by the third sector is vital for policy making. The sector now provides a major option for public services, which may be more responsive to the needs of citizens and service users. The Centre’s research will help to inform the debate around public service delivery, including the potential role of the third sector in commissioning, and the implications of different approaches to service delivery on the overall impact of the sector. 

We also work with a number of other organisations to inform housing policy and practice:

The Service Delivery team will also draw upon the work of other TSRC research streams, including Theory and Policy, Social Enterprise, Workforce, and the Real Times longitudinal case studies. 

Key questions

  • What is the current role of the third sector in service delivery and how is this changing? 
  • What is the potential for this role to grow and to change in the future? 
  • What are the implications of these developments in service delivery by the third sector, both for public policy and for the third sector itself? 

Research contact

David Mullins 

Previous work

Between 2010 and 2013 TSRC carried out three core projects that explored key themes for the sector:

Partnerships for public service delivery

The third sector increasingly works in partnership with public sector commissioners, as well as other providers in the public sector, private sector and with others in the third sector. This project is examining how these collaborative relationships actually work, what they offer to service commissioners, and what implications they have for the future of the third sector. The final report was published in autumn 2012.

Employment Services

This research examined the role of the third sector in commissioned employment services particularly the Work Programme. The research explored the role of the sector in the Work Programme, how subcontractors experienced delivery in the early phase of the programme, and asked what, if anything, is distinctive about the approaches to delivery that subcontractors adopt. The research report was published in February 2013.


This research explored the new commissioning landscape, seeking to better understand the third sector’s engagement with the state and private sectors through commissioning, and the impact it is having on TSOs. The empirical research focuses on commissioning of mental health services from TSOs in the west midlands. This research report is due to be published in early 2014. 


Working Paper 112: Community capital and the role of the state: an empowering approach to personalisation, Patricia A. Jones (PDF, October 2013)

Briefing Paper 105: Clarity, communication and reciprocity: key ingredients for productive relationships with voluntary organisations in the new health and social care commissioning environment, Heather Buckingham (PDF, July 2013)

Working Paper 104: Personalisation: a new dawn or the end of the road for third sector support for carers?, Robin Miller and Mary Larkin (PDF, July 2013) 
Briefing paper (PDF)

Report: The third sector as a public service provider: ESRC/TSRC co-centre seminar series (PDF)

Working Paper 94: Scaling-up or going-viral: comparing self-help housing and community land trust facilitation, Tom Moore and David Mullins (PDF, March 2013)

Working Paper 92: Does sector matter? Understanding the experiences of providers in the Work Programme  James Rees, Rebecca Taylor and Chris Damm (PDF, February 2013)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Working Paper 77: Accommodation for ex-offenders: Third sector housing advice and provision, Dina Gojkovic, Alice Mills and Rosie Meek (PDF, March 2012)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Working Paper 70: The third sector delivering employment services: an evidence review, Christopher Damm (PDF, January 2012)
Briefing paper (PDF) 

Working Paper 64: Personalisation: what will the impacts be for carers?, Dr Mary Larkin and Dr Helen Dickinson (PDF, July 2011)

Working Paper 61: Offender engagement with third sector organisations: a national prison-based survey  Dr Dina Gojkovic, Dr Rosie Meek and Dr Alice Mills (PDF, July 2011)
Briefing Paper (PDF)

Working Paper 60: Third sector partnerships for service delivery: an evidence review and research project, Dr James Rees, Professor David Mullins and Professor Tony Bovaird (PDF)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Working Paper 57: Scoping the involvement of third sector organisations in the seven resettlement pathways for offenders, Dr Dina Gojkovic, Dr Alice Mills and Dr Rosie Meek (PDF, May 2011)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Working Paper 54: Self-help housing – Towards a greater role. Case Study Findings Summary to inform Consultation at St George’s House, Windsor Castle, December 2010. Professor David Mullins, Dr Patricia A. Jones and Dr Simon Teasdale (Feb 2011)
Briefing paper (PDF)
Case Study Report (PDF)

Working Paper 53: Connecting the dots: the potential for self-help housing to address homelessness, Simon Teasdale, Patricia A. Jones and David Mullins (PDF, Jan 2011)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Working Paper 41: Capturing diversity: a typology of third sector organisations’ responses to contracting based on empirical evidence from homelessness services, Heather Buckingham (PDF, Sept 2010)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Working Paper 36: Mainstreaming the environment? The third sector and environmental performance management, Dr Rebecca Edwards, Professor Graham Smith, Dr Milena Büchs (PDF, June 2010)

Working Paper 34: The role of the third sector in work with offenders: the perceptions of criminal justice and third sector stakeholders, Rosie Meek, Dina Gojkovic and Alice Mills (PDF, May 2010)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Working Paper 30: The personalisation agenda, Helen Dickinson (PDF)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Working Paper 20: The third sector delivering public services: an evidence review, Rob Macmillan (PDF, July 2010)
Briefing paper (PDF) 

Briefing Paper 19: Housing scoping papers: homelessness advice and support, Ricky Joseph (PDF)

Briefing Paper 18: Housing scoping papers: the tenants' and community movement, Patricia A Jones (PDF)

Briefing Paper 17: Cooperative and mutual housing in the social rented sector, Rob Rowlands (PDF, August 2010)

Working Paper 16: Housing scoping paper: housing associations, David Mullins (PDF)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Briefing Paper 12: User and community co-production of public services: fad or fact, nuisance or necessity?, Tony Bovaird (PDF)

Working Paper 11: Housing scoping papers: self-help housing, David Mullins (PDF)
Briefing paper (PDF)

Briefing Paper 10: Housing scoping papers: overview, David Mullins, Patricia A Jones, Ricky Joseph, Rob Rowlands and Simon Teasdale (PDF)