This page is part of our successful commissioning toolkit.

Engaging with third sector organisations (TSOs) can provide a number of benefits.

For you, it will increase your understanding of:

  • The needs of your programme’s users and of the types of services that might best meet those needs. This will be especially effective in the case of your engagement with those TSOs that are closest to the users and that may be involved in advocacy on their behalf;
  • What the TSOs have to offer as potential providers of public services (and, therefore, as potential partners in a financial relationship with your organisation).

Working with and through TSOs can help achieve good value for money because commissioners’ assessment of needs is better for doing so and/or the time and cost of consultation and engagement with populations and users is reduced. This does not mean that it is always free or cheap. The NHS World Class Commissioning (WCC) competencies recognise the importance of engagement.  For example, for WCC competency 2 – Work with community partners – to be achieved in practice requires Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to work closely and develop a shared ambition with key partners including third sector organisations. [Note]

For the TSOs, it will:

  • Keep them up to date with the policy of your organisation;
  • Give them an opportunity to influence your organisation, especially through their close understanding of the needs of users (particularly the most hard to reach);
  • Update them on opportunities to take part in commissioning processes that may lead to financing from your organisation.

Although this happens at the beginning of the commissioning process, engagement with, and talking to, TSOs should be an ongoing activity. The Compact sets out the best way to do this to ensure the most productive input from the third sector.

Practical example 1: Engaging with TSOs

Within the area served by a council is a sizeable South Asian population which has a growing proportion of elder people. The council’s prevailing understanding is that such elder people want to continue to live within their own community or within their extended families; and that such communities ‘look after their own’. This view has shaped the provision of advice and services in the past.

As part of its commissioning of advice and services for elder people to remain independent and active, the council consults a leading black and minority ethnic (BME) TSO that has close connections with this and other similar South Asian communities. From its connections, the BME TSO is able to tell the council that its understanding is out of date.

The council funds research by the BME TSO within the community which finds that the range of people within it is much greater than the council thinks, in terms of origin, culture, religion and language. While support is still forthcoming from the community and family, lifestyle and cultural changes have reduced this support. There are a growing number of elder people living in isolation and loneliness and in increasingly poor housing.

The research also points to problems with existing services and support. There is a lack of interpreters and advice in some languages and some elder people are reliant on their children to access support. Community day-care provision is inequitably distributed across the council’s area.  And although sheltered housing is available, this is perceived by many South Asian elders to be the same as residential and nursing homes. Also, financial help to improve housing is available from the council but this is provided as a loan. Some South Asian elders are unable to take up such loans due to religious considerations such as Shariah law.

Practical example 2: Engaging with TSOs

A primary care trust (PCT) set up a disability group with the help of, and representatives from, TSOs covering a range of learning and physical disabilities. The awareness that the PCT gained from this group was fed into the PCT’s assessment of needs and the design of services. Services became more accessible and suitable for a wide range of users.

For example:

  • Arrangements for controlling secure access to hospital paediatric and maternity wards, which relied on verbal communication via an intercom, were changed to overcome the barriers they presented to deaf service users;
  • A planned reduction in the hours of catering services, with a switch to more use of vending machines, was reviewed when the difficulties of using vending machines by learning disabled people and people with neurological disabilities was pointed out;
  • More information about the accessibility of pharmacies was added to the PCT’s website; and
  • Improved co-ordination of services for children with a disability led to fewer journeys made and less school and day care time lost.


Note: ‘World Class Commissioning: Vision‘ and ‘World Class Commissioning: Achieving the Competencies (pdf – 3168KB)

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