Estonian Nonprofit Associations and Cooperation
The results of the extensive study assessing the situation of the Estonian civil society, conducted in the cooperation of Tallinn University, the Institute of Baltic Studies and the market research company Turu-uuringute AS in spring 2019, show that the cooperation between nonprofit organisations (NPOs) is on a downward trend.
Several indicators support this conclusion: the growth of the percentage of NPOs without any cooperation relations, decrease of the percentage of NPOs belonging to umbrella organisations and NPOs cooperating with other NPOs; decrease of the percentage of NPOs involved in policy development or advocacy and increase of the percentage of organisations without the experience of providing public services.
Cooperation is an indicator of both the vitality of civil society, and also the progress achieved in moving towards the targets of enhanced cooperation and better cooperation skills between NPOs and public authorities as defined in the Estonian Civil Society Development Concept, approved in the Riigikogu in 2002.
In the field of public advocacy, it would benefit the sector if the NPOs coordinated their positions more in their interaction with public authorities, but in a way that would still allow expression of different voices within the sector. In the field of service provision, although NPOs generally have positive experience with providing for local governments, the latter often do not recognize the benefits in services being provided by NPOs compared to businesses. One way to raise awareness of the advantages of NPOs as service providers is to monitor the satisfaction of the beneficiaries more thoroughly.
The article also discusses novel models of cooperation between the NPOs and public authorities. Reliance on network governance is increasing in Estonia but with uneven results as some networks exist only on paper. Specific characteristics of this model of governance – interdependence and mutually agreed-upon sanctions – should be more clearly formulated and thoroughly implemented. Project-based activities are also widely spread among both Estonian NPOs and public bodies. Their aim is increased effectiveness as projects are managed by local actors with more accurate grass-roots knowledge. Yet in order to achieve this aim, it is necessary to link projects to bureaucratic organisations more flexibly than it has been done so far.
In conclusion, the authors of the article point out that in order to achieve higher efficiency and effectiveness both public and grass-roots actors should take better account of the plurality of the NPOs and forms of cooperation.