Understanding the effectiveness of Australian feminist organisations’ relationship with government

Author: Paige Fletcher

Fletcher, Paige, 2023 Understanding the effectiveness of Australian feminist organisations’ relationship with government, Flinders University, College of Business, Government and Law

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This thesis aims to examine the working relationship between non-government organisations (NGOs) and governments to identify if this relationship enhances the influence wielded by NGOs. In the existing literature on the policy influence of NGOs, the question of effectiveness is a clouded one due to an abundance of measures. These existing definitions and approaches to NGO effectiveness are contested and often limited, which has resulted in a lack of agreed measures to evaluate the NGO-state relationship. The measures of effectiveness that do exist are limited in encapsulating the nuances of this working relationship. A case study of Australian feminist organisations is used to examine this working relationship and the impact it has on NGOs’ policy influence, specifically in relation to domestic and family violence (DFV) policy.

By synthesising the different elements of effectiveness from a range of measures, the thesis developed and applied a rich framework to the case study of Australian feminist organisations. The measure determines their effectiveness in influencing and contributing to four DFV policy frameworks across four Australian jurisdictions. This will provide a significant contribution to knowledge by developing an NGO effectiveness measure that can be applied to a broad spectrum of NGOs, rather than being movement- or context-specific.

The research found that within the context of the case study, the closer the relationship with government, the more effective a feminist organisation is in influencing DFV policy. This finding has important caveats, however, given that this relationship is deeply complex and is accompanied by significant challenges for Australian feminist NGOs, in which impacts these organisations’ effectiveness. Having a working relationship with government does not guarantee effectiveness and policy influence, but rather, how this proximity is utilised, the strategies used when engaging with governments, and the autonomy of the organisation. While these organisations can act strategically to focus their efforts and enhance effectiveness despite these challenges, the extent of an organisation’s influence can remain limited by this relationship if the organisation remains dependent upon government. Therefore, the impact the working relationship has on feminist NGO effectiveness is more complex than simply enhancing feminist organisations’ policy influence.

The current framing of the working relationship between the state and NGOs through the insider/outsider dichotomy falls short of capturing this complexity. This dichotomy fails to consider exogenous factors that are beyond the organisation’s control, which have an impact on the working relationship. This includes the government in office, the receptivity of the relevant Minister and department, and the funding arrangements of the organisation. A typology of NGO-state relation strategies is proposed to capture the intricacies and nuances of the working relationship between NGOs and the state. The typology includes four types: pragmatic, flip-flop, stoic, and partisan-aligned. This provides a second significant contribution to knowledge by proposing an alternative to the insider/outsider dichotomy.

There are practical implications arising from this research, and a number of recommendations for NGOs and governmental departments are provided to improve the NGO-state relationship to enhance public policy outcomes, and specifically, DFV policy outcomes. Overall, this research provides a significant contribution to knowledge by developing an understanding of Australian feminist NGOs, how they operate, and how effective they are in influencing improvements in DFV policies.

Keywords: non-governmental organisations, feminist organisations, insider/outsider, effectiveness, NGO advocacy, NGO effectiveness

Subject: Policy and Administration thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2023
School: College of Business, Government and Law
Supervisor: Associate Professor Cassandra Star