October 24, 2012; Source: The Guardian

A comment from a senior executive at the U.K.’s National Council for Voluntary Organizations (NCVO) may be very instructive for U.S. nonprofits about what the sector can do to help government rethink the structure and delivery of public services. NCVO’s James Allen observes, “As the voluntary sector has decades of experience in identifying, addressing and preventing inequalities…voluntary organisations [are] well-placed to improve both the design and delivery of many public services.”

Allen offered this thought in response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement that “unreformed public services are a key hallmark of countries ‘on the slide.’” Allen’s idea is that Cameron’s government, or any government for that matter, would be best served by bringing nonprofits to the table to help in the redesign of government programs.

Allen says that government’s partnership with nonprofits could be enhanced by “continuing to offer grant funding [to] support pilots of experimental ideas and enable new entrants into the public service market.” He argues this could be accomplished by making more available and accessible “data on service users’ needs, motivations and choices…to allow providers to propose services that are responsive to people’s needs” and by “developing partnerships and subcontracting relationships among providers to enable new collaborations and innovation.”

In the U.S., do nonprofits know what’s wrong with the design and delivery of public services? Just ask them. Nonprofits suffer through structural flaws in the delivery of public services in multiple arenas of activity. The findings of studies by the Urban Institute and the National Council of Nonprofits are replete with the knowledge of the nonprofit sector about what government can and should do to improve public service program design and delivery.

All too often, U.S. nonprofits engage in advocacy to protect their access to government funding, but they may not be addressing a hugely important role that they can play in reforming and redesigning public services. Certainly nonprofits have to fight off the disastrous impacts of pending sequestration cuts after the elections. They have to play important roles in advancing comprehensive tax reform next year, too. But they should also be front and center at the table, no matter who wins on November 6th, in helping government fix programs so that they run better and deliver more. –Rick Cohen