Understanding third sector ecosystems development in stateless nations

McMullin et alCaitlin McMullin, Michael J. Roy & Maeve Curtin

Over the past few decades, numerous large scale studies have considered the differences in third sector development between different countries, based on welfare policy, sources of funding and size of the sector. However, these studies categorise countries at the nation-state level, which obscures significant differences in third sector ecosystems within countries characterised by federal or devolved administrations. Quebec and Scotland have frequently been compared in relation to their sovereignty movements, but in our recent paper in Policy & Politics, we posit that these similarities go further, in shaping the structure and ideology of the third sector that put them at odds with their national/ ‘parent’ state contexts.

In our article we therefore ask: How can we understand the development of parallel models of the third sector in Scotland and Quebec that diverge from the dominant discourses and structures of the UK and Canadian models? We apply a framework of institutional logics (or the rules, norms of behaviour, identities and values that shape organisations’ and individuals’ understanding of their social world) in order to explore this key question.

Through an analysis of the literature and government policies on the third sector, we compare how the historical influence of the cooperative movement and social economy, separatist movements, and traditions of consultation have followed similar trajectories in these two contexts. We also find that collective identity in both Scotland and Quebec supports a sense of solidarity within the third sector that differentiates the Scottish third sector from that of England, and likewise Quebec from the rest of Canada.

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Impact for policy and practice

Understanding the structural and ideological elements that influence the third sector can help practitioners better design public policy and practice that is sensitive to local contexts. For instance, both the United Kingdom and Canada are considered liberal non-profit regimes, where low levels of welfare spending are coupled with a third sector that is based on philanthropy, charity and volunteering. However, the more progressive governments of Scotland and Quebec have developed more collaborative arrangements between the government and the third sector, as well as a wider range of funding mechanisms. This means that the opportunities and constraints for actors in these contexts is considerably different to the situation for non-profits in England and the rest of Canada, which fit their ‘liberal’ non-profit regime classification more accurately.

The model we develop of institutional logics and third sector ecosystems also has implications for our understanding of other contexts characterised by stateless nations, such as Catalonia and the Basque country in Spain or the differences between Flanders and Wallonia in Belgium. We hope that this model will encourage further comparative analyses of the third sector that go beyond the nation-state level and help to improve public policy design in the future.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

McMullin, Caitlin; Roy, Michael J.; Curtin, Maeve (2021) ‘Institutional logics as a framework for understanding third sector development: an analysis of Quebec and Scotland’,  Policy & Politics, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1332/030557321X16239357875918

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Improving public policy and administration: exploring the potential of design

Designing institutions for designing policy

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