Collaboration of New Zealand’s Expressive Civil Society Organisations Amidst Neoliberalism
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Despite extensive scholarly interest in the topic of collaboration, there remains little academic literature at its intersection with New Zealand 114,000 civil society organisations that deliver non-profitable social services and/or community outlets for human expression. These organisations expend around 5% of the country’s gross domestic product and engage around 75% of the nation’s population; thus, they add significant value to New Zealand’s economy and society. Since the advent of neoliberal policies during the 1980s, it is argued that the introduction of contracting, as the primary way government funds the sector, has undermined these organisations. Furthermore, it is contended that under neoliberalism, rather than collaboration generating beneficial outcomes that create synergy to address society’s wicked social problems, competitive contracting may be disadvantageous. A unique feature of New Zealand’s civil society sector is that most of its organisations support individual expression through activities such as culture, recreation and religion. A minority deliver tangible social services, including housing or welfare. Due to the distinctive strength of New Zealand’s expressive organisations, this thesis aims to understand how value might be created through collaborations of this subsector. Therefore, through a lens of management theory, three questions guided the research: Why do New Zealand expressive civil society organisations collaborate? What obstacles do they encounter when collaborating? And how do they constructively collaborate? Adopting a constructionist philosophy, the research strategy utilised Grounded Theory. Rather than testing theoretical assertions produced from literature, participants were interviewed so that mid-range theories could be generated from findings. These theories are expressed through propositions that sought to accurately convey the experiences of the 28 participants who were either managers of expressive organisations or representatives of their primary stakeholders. Of the propositions that emerged through the research, 14 concerned the motivation for collaboration. Here, it was found that civil society organisations principally collaborate to acquire and manage resources. Yet, importantly, they also collaborate to bring about transformation that positively impacts their respective causes through individual/organisational learning, organisational programming, advocacy, and to extend the scale of organisational vision. A further 20 propositions concerned obstacles impeding collaborations. These included resource scarcity, organisational incapability, and organisational cultures perceived as negative. The overarching theme to emerge was that, for many organisations, collaboration is itself perceived as a wicked social problem. More hopefully, a further 24 propositions were generated to explain how organisations go about collaborating constructively amidst neoliberalism. Insights for civil society stakeholders included the importance of creating a healthy collaborative culture, actively portraying desirable collaborative characteristics, and clearly articulating structures, goals and evaluation of collaborations. Much current debate concerning New Zealand’s civil society sector continues a thirty-year tradition that stalwartly argues for a reversal of neoliberal policies. Taking a divergent approach, this thesis contends neoliberalism is firmly embedded within New Zealand society. Therefore, through empiricism, its contribution is to unearth obstacles besetting collaboration within this environment and to identify constructive strategies for working with others to create individual or sectoral efficiency and innovations that will assist civil society organisations achieve their aims, including the resolution of wicked social problems.