The Opportunities and Challenges of the Changing Public Services Landscape for the Third Sector in Scotland: A Longitudinal Study: Year Two Report

The report provides findings from the second year of a three year qualitative longitudinal study on the third sector in Scotland.


1.1 This report outlines findings from year two of a three-year research project examining 'The Changing Public Services Landscape in Scotland: Opportunities and Challenges'. This report builds on and extends the research reported in the Year One baseline report4 . This work was commissioned by the Scottish Government and using qualitative case studies and focus groups aims to track the way in which a selection of third sector organisations (TSOs) respond to the changing opportunities and challenges over a period of three years starting from 2009/2010.

1.2 The Scottish Government has acknowledged that the third sector has a key role to play in delivering public services that are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people's needs. This work will inform future partnership-working with the third sector.

1.3 The first year of the research (see Year One report) established a 'baseline' by which subsequent years of research could be compared. As part of that, specific objectives for the first year of research are summarised below:

  • identify the role and distinctive added value of TSOs delivering public services;
  • identify features of effective partnership-working between the public sector and TSOs;
  • assess the impact of Scottish Government and local government policy and budget priorities on TSOs' changing practice and management;
  • track the impact of the economic downturn and budget limitations on TSOs' roles in public service delivery;
  • describe how TSOs contribute to progress on the Scottish Government's national priorities and national outcomes;
  • describe how TSOs contribute to progress on Single Outcome Agreements and the work of Community Planning Partnerships;
  • enable TSOs to articulate views on the appropriateness of funders' oversight, evaluation and management procedures.

1.4 A full list of objectives as outlined in the original specification are provided in Appendix A.

1.5 The Year Two research aimed to build on and extend these original objectives as well as responding to emerging policy. At a meeting of the Research Advisory Group in February 20115 , the members agreed that the focus of the Year Two research should include the following:

  • Relationships/ partnerships
  • Especially involvement of TSOs in Services Design (co-production)
  • Views of new local infrastructure (interfaces) and third sector engagement at local level
  • Other partnerships
  • Financing the third sector
  • Outcome measurement (SROI and other impact measurements)
  • Leadership and governance
  • Policy changes/ election context
  • Delivering high quality services (case study examples).


1.6 The methodology involved qualitative research within 20 voluntary sector organisations based in Scotland. The methodology involved two key components: (1) in-depth case studies with eight TSOs and; (2) three focus groups involving twelve additional TSOs.

1.7 Case studies for the Year One (Baseline) were carried out between December 2009 and May 2010 and for the focus groups between April and June 2010. The results were reported in the Year One report.

1.8 Case studies for Year Two were carried out approximately one year after the first visit with organisations (between January and June 2011). Focus groups were carried out at six monthly intervals following the baseline meeting. This report covers key findings from two waves of focus group meetings which were carried out between October and November 2010 and April and May 2011.

1.9 In addition, a workshop was carried out in June 2011 at Edinburgh University Business School. Representatives from all participating organisations were invited to attend, with 11 signing up. Seven participants attended, with apologies from a further four who could not attend at the last minute. The workshop included a presentation of the Year One findings by Professor Stephen Osborne followed by a discussion involving all participants. Notes were taken on the discussion, and where appropriate, issues discussed are referred to in the report.

Initial selection of case study and group work organisations

1.10 Following discussions with the Scottish Government and the Research Advisory Group, a framework was developed for the selection of research participants. This was designed to ensure the establishment of a purposive sample of organisations working in different:

  • policy areas (with a mix of social care, healthcare, and employability/economic development/regeneration providers);
  • geographies (based in different locations across Scotland);
  • scales (with a mix of larger and smaller organisations included);
  • and to include some social enterprises.

1.11 The selection of focus groups was based on similar lines with individual focus groups bringing together organisations with strong agendas in the following areas: (a) equalities; (b) social care and health care, and (c) employability/economic development/regeneration.

1.12 Potential participants were identified through a database of 685 possible organisations provided through the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). The final selection of possible organisations was made in order to achieve the balance required by the framework above. All organisations were then contacted and invited to take part in the research for a period of three years as either: (1) a case study carried out once a year; or (2) to participate in a focus group carried out twice a year. Most first choice organisations were happy to participate, with the few who declined being replaced by other suitable organisations. In this way, the baseline sample of organisations was obtained.

In-depth case studies

1.13 In-depth case studies were carried out within eight third sector organisations between January 2011 and June 2011.

1.14 In-depth face-to-face interviews were carried out with staff at different levels of the organisation. These included: chief executives; other senior officers/managers; research/policy officers; business/planning managers; operational and line managers; front line staff delivering. The selection of staff for interview was decided in consultation with the main contact from the organisation (usually the chief executive or another member of the senior management team) and the actual staff interviewed varied depending on the size of the organisation and availability of appropriate functions. A list of interviews carried out within each organisation for Year Two can be found in Appendix B. A copy of the main interview schedule used in Year Two is attached in Appendix D.

1.15 In Year Two the main contact was again approached and asked for an interview and permission to follow up staff contacted in Year One. If original staff were not available for interview, where possible, other staff covering a similar role were identified and interviewed. In one organisation access was restricted to a smaller number of participants due to resource issues. A very small number of staff either did not reply to invitations to be interviewed, or there were difficulties in arranging available interview dates within the research timeframe.

Three focus groups

1.16 Twelve organisations were divided into three focus groups of four participants. Each focus group pulled together organisations with strong interests in particular areas. These included: (a) equalities; (b) social care and health care, and (c) employability/economic development/regeneration6 .

1.17 One representative from each organisation (usually the Chief Executive or a member of the senior management team) attended one of the focus groups carried out between October and November 2010 and April and May 2011. Where an organisational representative was unable to attend the focus group, telephone interviews were conducted. A common discussion framework was used - See Appendix D & E.

1.18 Following the focus groups in Year One, one participant left the TSO and her successor was unable to continue the participation on behalf of that organisation. However, another organisation was approached and agreed to take part in the focus group research. An initial interview was carried out with the new participant in December 2010 and this member joined the focus group for the first time in Year Two.


1.19 In order to protect the anonymity of individual respondents who took part in the research, quotes have been labelled with generic job titles (e.g. Senior Manager, Manager, and Officer). A brief description of the type of organisation is also provided after each quote. Additional background information on the participating organisations is provided in Appendix C. This is intended to give context to the overall report and individual quotes without revealing the identity of participating organisations. All organisations were happy to be identified as taking part in the research (although not necessarily to have particular opinions credited to them). All participating organisations approved the approach to anonymisation that has been used. A full list of participating organisations is available on the project website at .


1.20 The first stage of the qualitative longitudinal research was to design a thematic analysis framework. This was based on the framework used in Year One (baseline). This provided a flexible common core framework which enabled 'comparability over time and between projects' for which 'the use of common data collection tools and reproducible modes of analysis are suggested'7 . Thematic analysis has been carried out on individual focus group and case study data collected in Years 1 and 2. This analysis provided the basis for the longitudinal analysis as well as providing more detailed cross-sectional data, including quotes, which are used in the report.

1.21 For the longitudinal analysis, later data were then added to the earlier data within the thematic framework enabling accounts provided by different respondents at different points in times to be easily compared. In order to organise the longitudinal analysis, the method proposed by Lewis (2007)8 was employed. Individual focus groups and case studies were subjected to a longitudinal analysis comparing data collected in the waves. This was done for each group/case study in Microsoft Excel. This data was then integrated (in Microsoft Excel) across all groups and case studies. In this way, a summary analysis of key changes between the waves was enabled and forms the basis of this report.

1.22 Please note that much of the report is based on the views and perceptions of interviewees within this selection of third sector organisations. These views are individual's opinions and are therefore subjective.

Methodological challenges

1.23 The longitudinal qualitative nature of the research presents an unparalleled opportunity to track the dynamic of change over time. However, this also presents challenges including issues of attribution, policy changes and attrition.

1.24 Attribution is being able to attribute changes to a specific cause. However, TSOs in Scotland operate within a complex and changing policy context, with policy emerging from different levels. The UK and Scotland level are particularly important for policy, but also policy emerging from (and interpreted through) local authorities, regulatory bodies and Europe form part of a complex background. There is also often a time lag between policy announcements and the actual impact on TSOs since these can be mediated via other bodies (e.g. local authorities in particular). Where possible the report identifies the key links, but it would be too simplistic to assume that causal links always exist or that they are straightforward in nature.

1.25 Over the course of a number of years, it is likely that the circumstances of organisations or individuals may change in a way that means they can no longer continue in the research (attrition). Fortunately, by Year Two of the research attrition had been minimal. Of the 20 organisations taking part in Year One (Baseline), only one focus group participant was unable to continue. However, a replacement organisation was found whose Director was able to take part in the subsequent years.

1.26 There was some attrition of interviewees within case study organisations. This was because of staff leaving the organisation, being unable to set up interviews within the timeframe or because access was restricted by the key contact. Where possible, alternative participants were interviewed.

Structure of the report

1.27 The findings from the research begin in Chapter 2 with an examination of the key Changes to the Policy and Funding Environment. These include:

  • policies emerging from UK Government and Scottish Government;
  • tendering including funding cuts and new opportunities, and access to loan finance; and,
  • some of the impacts on TSOs resulting from the policy and funding changes, including changes in demand for services; impact on service provision; impact on clients; and impact on staff.

1.28 Chapter 3 explores Third Sector Responses and Challenges to the changing environments. This chapter examines:

  • how TSOs have been responding to changing funding opportunities and the potential challenge of 'strategic drift';
  • organisational reviews;
  • making cost savings in order to remain competitive including: restructuring, redundancy planning and reducing staff costs, property rationalisations, mergers and the impact on internal capacity;
  • the approach of TSOs to diversifying the funding base and social enterprise;
  • the challenges of competition for TSOs, and;
  • governance and leadership.

1.29 Chapter 4 examines trends around Performance and Outcome Measures. This includes: measuring 'soft' outcomes; providing additional evidence to funders; using additional measures to demonstrate impacts, and; use of Social Return on Investment (SROI).

1.30 Partnership Working (Chapter 5) examines trends in partnership working reported by TSOs. This chapter also looks at: Third Sector Infrastructure such as awareness and involvement in Third Sector Interfaces; relationships with SCVO and local CVSs and involvement in other partnership forums. Finally, this sector examines partnerships with local authorities and involvement in service design.

1.31 Throughout the report and under relevant chapters, case study examples are outlined giving details of practices within individual TSOs.

1.32 Finally, a Conclusion is provided in Chapter 6.

1.33 All quotes use generic pseudonyms which are intended to provide some organisational and respondent role context without identifying either individuals or organisations. However, please note that the generic pseudonyms cannot encapsulate the varied roles of TSOs, especially since many organisations fall into numerous categories, but they are necessary for convenience. Appendices B and C provide more details about each organisations. Where quotes have been taken from a focus group discussion this is indicated in brackets after the quote (e.g. Employability FG where FG indicates 'focus group').

1.34 Interview guide questions used in the fieldwork are appended (Appendix D and E).


Email: Kay Barclay

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