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At the Government Outcomes Lab, we’re investigating whether and how more relational, multilateral forms of partnership for public service delivery might lead to better coordination of services that provide better support to their users.

Public service delivery has been increasingly inspired by business and market-style approaches since the 1980s, but these approaches have sometimes succumbed to their inherent risks. One is of wholesale market failure as seen in the case of Carillion. Another, perhaps more pervasive and insidious, is the repeatedly poor performance of complex, cross-cutting public service delivery. Given the distinction between purchasing and providing services that a market mechanism brings about, contracts are needed, but this can lead to fragmentation. For people using services, that often means duplicative, superficial interactions with multiple services which are not joined up. Fixing this requires coordination – or perhaps even integration – of a range of support across multiple organisations. Conventional bilateral contracting approaches are not well suited to this. Practice is moving towards more relational, and more multilateral, forms of contracting.

Our Research Director, Dr Eleanor Carter, was awarded a four-year Future Leaders Fellowship by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Work supported by the UKRI Fellowship will investigate whether the current focus on commissioning individual public services is fit-for-purpose, and how the use of delivery networks might better serve the people who use them.

This work builds on the foundations of other work on the potential for partnerships to improve service delivery. We undertook research on place-based partnerships, culminating in the report Are we Rallying Together? Collaboration and public sector reform, providing a typology of local partnerships across the United Kingdom.

We are also studying the role of these kinds of partnerships in response to contemporary policy debates, such as those around the social responsibilities of business, and the UK Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda to address regional inequalities.

Publications

Academic publications

C. FitzGerald, F. Rosenbach, T. Hameed, R. Dixon, R. Blundell. (2021) New development: Rallying together—The rationale for and structure of collaborative practice in England Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford

Reports

I. Taylor. (2021) Responsible business: a challenging opportunity Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford

J. Blundell, R. Rosenbach, T. Hameed, C. FitzGerald. (2019) Are we Rallying Together? Collaboration and public sector reform Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford

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