Towards an ecosystem view of legitimacy of third sector organisations
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date29/08/2023
The study aims to provide a better understanding of the legitimacy and legitimation of third sector organisations (TSOs). It does so by integrating insights from contemporary legitimacy literature and public administration management literature into the context of Scottish-based TSOs that deliver services to young people. Legitimacy can support the resource acquisition and long-term survival of TSOs. Therefore, legitimacy should not be taken for granted and must be actively managed to gain endorsement, support, and resources from the legitimating environment. However, much of the previous non-profit literature has tended to focus on the study of dyads, where the funder is often viewed as the main constituency who grants legitimacy to TSOs. TSOs are complex organisations because they have multiple constituent groups who may have different interests. The non-profit underpinnings of TSOs, the multiplicity of funding mechanisms and the presence of multiple constituents require expanding the focus to embrace these characteristics into the study of TSO legitimacy. The study employed a qualitative multiple case study approach to explore legitimacy of four TSOs with different funding structures. Major data collection tools included semi-structured interviews with selected organisations and their funding institutions, observations and site visits, and analysis of relevant documents. The data was thematically analysed. The research study was guided by abductive reasoning which allowed for the exploration of the appropriate theoretical framework during the research and identified the relevance of the ecosystem approach in the study of the phenomena. The application of the ecosystem approached has allowed to account for the complexity of TSOs and uncover a range of interlinked processes that contribute to TSO legitimacy. By embracing a holistic view on legitimacy, the study has provided an empirical demonstration that in the TSO context, legitimation of TSOs does not occur in dyadic relationships between the organisation and the funder but requires ongoing interactions with other elements in the wider ecosystem, the role of which becomes apparent only after the whole ecosystem has been explored and understood. Accordingly, the study has proposed a framework of the legitimacy ecosystem of TSOs and offered three different approaches to legitimation based on the core element, which has more legitimising potential than others when viewed within the whole ecosystem.