CHAPTER 3 POLICY, RESEARCH AND ADVOCACY ENVIRONMENT
The extent and effectiveness of NPIs impact directly or indirectly on the quality of people's lives, their well being and their engagement in society. The Australian Government mandated the Productivity Commission to report on the contribution of the not-for-profit sector, recognizing that the activities undertaken by NPIs can be indicators of the social health of a society. They are also substantially engaged in the delivery of a wide range of government funded and self funded services, employ close to 900,000 people, and engage over 4.5 million volunteers.
The sheer size of the sector and its engagement with governments and the public in providing a wide range of social services, fundraising and advocacy ensure that governments have an ongoing policy and regulatory interest in the sector. Statistical measurement is required to track trends over time in types of activities, sources of funding and other resources (including volunteers) and monitoring and reporting of outcomes.
All levels of government have action plans to collaborate with and strengthen community organisations. At the Federal level this direct policy interest in the NPI sector is embodied in the Australian Government Social Inclusion Agenda, the National Compact with the Third Sector and the National Agenda on Volunteering. State and territory governments have or are developing harmonised plans for their jurisdictions.
The National Compact (Working Together), signed in 2010, represents a commitment by the Australian Government and NPIs to collaborate to improve social, cultural, civic, economic and environmental outcomes for a more inclusive Australian society and improved wellbeing. The Compact includes a list of priorities for action, including the need to document and promote the value and contribution of the sector and to improve information sharing and access to publicly funded research and data.
NPIs have a substantial and growing role in providing government services in health, aged care, education, early childhood development, employment services, social services and public housing. For example, 35% of all public housing is expected to be owned or under management of NPIs by the year 2014. The large and growing involvement of NPIs in service contracting has increased the focus on outcomes measurement and program evaluation. Governments and the NPI sector have an interest in moving towards standardised approaches and in streamlining administration.
Governments provide grants to assist NPIs to acquire infrastructure and to undertake activities, and to strengthen the capacity of community organisations to grow and contribute in the future. The role of community organisations in recovery after natural disasters has sharpened the focus of governments on their sustainability and on factors that might affect their ability to sustain their activities into the future (such as the impact of economic downturns on funding, and increased demands for services). Much of the information need is at the local community level.
Governments recognise the key part played by volunteers in providing services to NPIs and governments and to the community more generally. They make a critical contribution to emergency services and disaster recovery. Governments also recognise the potential wellbeing benefits to the volunteers themselves.
The Australian Government is leading the development of a national volunteering strategy in consultation with state and territory governments, peak bodies and other stakeholders. State and territory governments have harmonised programs. Information on trends in volunteering and factors affecting decisions around whether or not to volunteer are critical for policy development and for monitoring progress.
Public understanding of the dimensions of the sector, its role as a major provider of government funded and other community services and its place in the wider economy is important. Quality statistical information can help public recognition of the sector and help it engage in discussion and debate around the role of the sector and government policy. Acknowledgement by NPIs, governments and the community of the value and contribution of volunteering is an important factor in individual decisions to participate as volunteers.
The NPI sector needs information to measure and substantiate its economic and social contribution. Such information serves the purposes of advocacy and to increase a sense of self identification, as well as increase the awareness of governments, business and the public of the sector’s contributions. This awareness factor is important to the sector because of its reliance on private and government funding and on being able to attract volunteers.
Organisations have an interest in data to compare themselves with similar organisations to help promote best practice processes and outcomes consistent with evidence based decision making. Financial information is routinely available for for-profit businesses from taxation statistics and through analysis of public information held by government regulators (eg. APRA and ASIC). Financial and program evaluation information needs to be more widely available for NPIs.
There is a substantial and growing academic interest in the NPI sector and associated phenomena such as volunteering and social capital. A number of Australian universities have faculties or institutes involved with teaching, research and consulting activities related to the sector. A number of national and international conferences and meetings provide exposure to research papers related to the sector.
The Johns Hopkins University Comparative Non-Profit Sector Project is an international project to systematically describe and compare the scope, structure and impact of the sector throughout the world. Findings for around 50 countries are regularly published.
Government and private policy development and research interests, the need for better public recognition of the dimensions and role of the sector, and the advocacy needs of the sector itself underpin the need for improved statistical information proposed in this IDP.