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How Intermediary Organizations Influence Human Services: A Comparison of Two Minnesota Networks

Nationally, an incredible transformation has occurred in how government works: a trend toward devolution and privatization, accompanied by promises of increased efficiency. Yet, the patchwork systems resulting from these efforts are filled with competing imperatives, contradictory goals, and siloed funding streams. The implications of these changes are significant in many fields, but none more important than human services because of its focus on our community's most disadvantaged citizens. In practice, nonprofit human services organizations and government agencies are intertwined financially, programmatically, and operationally. Although such collaboration is often lauded as a better way to implement new policies, there is little research about how to build effective networks or reform existing institutions. Jodi Sandfort (Humphrey School of Public Affairs) compared two networks of human service organizations that provide safety-net programs to low-income Minnesotans. Using a comparative case-study design, the study explored the consequences of devolved and privatized service delivery for public policy implementation, organizational effectiveness, and citizen treatment. Because of limitations in current theories, this study was designed to push understandings and develop propositions about the nature of government–nonprofit relationships that more closely match field conditions. The findings challenge existing policy implementation assumptions and provide insights as to the types of institutions required to meet today's human service delivery challenges.

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Edward Goetz Director, CURA (612) 624-8737