Supporting collaboration between the third and public sectors: evidence review

Findings of research conducted by Scottish Government researchers to better understand current barriers to effective collaboration between third sector organisations and the public sector.

1. Introduction

This report presents findings of a literature review and analysis of stakeholder interviews conducted by Scottish Government researchers to better understand current barriers to effective collaboration between third sector organisations and public sector.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Third Sector Interface Network (TSI Network) and the Scottish Government have committed to understanding and tackling the barriers to collaboration between the third sector and national and local government.

In the immediate response to the pandemic in Scotland, it appeared that barriers to effective partnership working across sectors were overcome in the short term to the benefit of communities, demonstrating what can be achieved on a large scale when key partners work together effectively.

The aim of this report is to provide a fuller understanding of the barriers to collaboration that most often prevent partners working together effectively. It also aims to provide greater insight into situations and cases where collaboration has been most effective and successful – and why this was the case.

This report will use the terms third sector and public sector. The definitions of these terms are outlined below:

Third sector - Scotland's third sector, which includes charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups, delivers essential services, helps to improve people's wellbeing and contributes to economic growth. It plays a vital role in supporting communities at a local level.

Public sector - Scotland's public sector is made up of organisations covering health, central government, public bodies, local councils, commissioners and tribunals. Although this research draws on literature considering perspectives from the wider public sector, for the purposes of this work we are primarily focused on collaboration between the third sector, local government and national government.

Policy Context

In 2011, the Christie Commission[32] drew on evidence from across the public, third, community and voluntary sectors and made a number of recommendations which continue to be highly relevant and influential in terms of setting out those key principles that can enable the shaping and delivery of sustainable and outcome-focused public services.

Christie noted that there was an imperative to tackle the "fragmentation and complexity in the design and delivery of public services by improving coherence and collaboration between agencies and sectors".

In short, collaboration was seen then as a necessary condition for reform, creating the conditions for public services, people, communities and places to be able to work jointly in the interests of achieving improved outcomes.

The emphasis on the reform principles of prevention, partnership, people, performance and place has been most recently reinforced in the outputs from the Social Renewal Advisory Board and the COVID-19 Recovery Strategy. The report from the Social Renewal Advisory Board[33] for example, predicates its 20 'calls to action' on a strong platform that calls for national and local government, employers and the third sector to work together with people and communities. It also calls for the development of new arrangements for local governance through the ongoing Local Governance Review. This was subsequently reinforced through the strategic emphasis on 'person-centred' support and services in the COVID-19 Recovery Strategy[34] with huge importance being placed on collective endeavour in order to achieve this.

The follow up to this research will reflect this ambition through the implementation of a programme of work that is intended to test and embed more effective forms of collaboration between the project partners and others. This research has been undertaken in order to help guide the project work, by highlighting aspects of collaboration that have traditionally been challenging, and where there is scope for learning and improvement.


This report draws on two sources of data: a review of published and grey literature on the topic and a set of qualitative interviews with some key stakeholders.

Literature review

The report draws on a rapid review of the existing literature and evidence base relevant to existing barriers to collaboration between third and public sectors. Given the broad scope of such a project, the relatively brief time frame within which the report was compiled did not allow for a fully comprehensive or systematic review of the relevant literature. A focus was placed on key data sources identified by the researchers and by SCVO, COSLA and TSI Network. Additional literature was identified using a 'snowballing' method: finding literature by using key sources as a starting point and identifying sources through the references in key texts.

A full list of data sources for the literature review is included in Appendix I.

Stakeholder interviews

A series of thirteen interviews were conducted with stakeholders from sixteen third and public sector organisations. The interviewees were from the following organisations:

Table 1: List of organisations participating in stakeholder interviews

Third sector organisations: Scottish Community Alliance

- Public sector organisations: Falkirk Council

  • Third sector interfaces: Voluntary Action Shetland

Third sector organisations: Cyrenians

- Public sector organisations: Argyll and Bute Council

  • Third sector interfaces: Berwickshire Association for Voluntary Service

Third sector organisations: Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO)

- Public sector organisations: Renfrewshire council

  • Third sector interfaces: Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector

Third sector organisations: Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS)

- Public sector organisations: Improvement Service

  • Third sector interfaces: Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway

- Public sector organisations: Scotland Excel

  • Third sector interfaces: Clackmannanshire Third Sector Interface
  • Third sector interfaces: Stirlingshire Voluntary Enterprise
  • Third sector interfaces: Highland Third Sector Interface

While the selection of interviewees was designed to give a range of perspectives – including urban and rural perspectives – the size and diversity of the third sector and the public sector in Scotland mean that a research project of this scale cannot be representative of the full range of views and experiences across those sectors. Rather, the information from the interviews was primarily sought to give greater insight and understanding into some of the key themes that were highlighted through the literature review. Given the nature of the collaboration, the focus of the public sector interviews was on local government perspectives, and did not attempt to gather views from across the wider public sector.

Eleven interviews were conducted with individual organisations and two were conducted as focus groups, with two and four organisations present respectively. The interviews were semi-structured, asking participants about their views on current barriers that prevent effective collaboration between third and public sectors, as well as asking participants about examples of effective and ineffective collaboration they have encountered. The interviews were analysed qualitatively to draw out the key themes emerging from the discussions.

The interviews were conducted by Scottish Government researchers, and recorded and stored securely for analysis in line with GDPR legislation. All participants were provided with a privacy notice to explain the use of their data in the research, and gave their consent to take part in the research. All respondents have been anonymised in the final analysis to protect the identities of research participants.



Back to top