The Polish third sector has transformed itself very dramatically since the end of the communist rule in 1989. Today there are several tens of thousands third sector organizations, mainly non-profit organizations, which were set up in the last twenty-five years. They act independently of the state and their agenda is set only according to the preferences of their founders. It is a stark contrast with the communist times, when any social organization was independent only by its name but no by its everyday practice. Every organizational form of the public life was under the hegemony of the state (Leś 2000).
In the same time the role of third sector organizations as producers of goods and services has been changing in according to a specific pattern after 1989. The role of organizations which were active during communists time has been decreasing but the role of the newly formed organization has been expanding. As a result in some policy fields (e.g. housing) third sector organizations have become less active but in the other (e.g. social assistance or education) they have been developing quite significantly. After 1989 not only the third sector has changed on the structural level, the discussion on the third sector, and more widely on civil society, has also changed. There were high hopes for the civil society to thrive during the last years of the communist rule and in the beginning of the democratic era. Civil society was perceived as a better and more natural form of public life than state institutions.
Therefore civil society organizations, mainly associations and foundations, were expected to develop rapidly and to create a space for an authentic public life. In the early 90s a separate sphere of non-profit organizations, used to be called non-governmental organizations to emphasize their independence from both the state and the market, was supposed to exist in Poland.
Nonetheless as the time has been passing, the idea of civil society had to be put into the practice. During this process a lot of limitations for the development of third sector organizations has emerged. One of which was the lack of financial resources and dependence of the third sector on public founding. In the effect nowadays, the on-going discussion around the third sector and the civil society is less idealistic and much more pragmatic than it used to be at the beginning of transition. Taking above statements into consideration, the aim of this paper is to investigate the transformations of the third sector in Poland and to work out a direction in which the Polish third sector is heading now. We are going to use a widely discussed but completely unknown in Poland concept of co-production as a tool for the analysis in this paper.
This concept fits into research on the third sector development because it allows to indicate in which part of a policy stream third sector organizations are involved. Are they involved simultaneously in policy formulation and policy implementation? Or are they involved only in implementation phase?
Following the work of Pestoff and Brandsen (2008) and Pestoff (2009, 2012), and we distinct three basic forms of co-production such as co-governance, co-management and co-production. Coproduction is defined as the engagement of third sector organizations in the delivery of public services. As a result, co-production is an alternative channel of public service delivery, with public regulation and financing that could either take the form of a direct public subsidy, or service vouchers, or preferential tax rules for third sector organizations. Co-management is defined as joint efforts undertaken by third sector organizations, for-profit enterprises and public administration in order to manage public service delivery.
Finally, co-governance refers to an arrangement according to which third sector organizations, together with public administration and for-profit enterprises, participate in decision making and the planning of public services.