Projects per year
The concept of commissioning has risen in prominence in recent years as a result of ongoing reforms to the funding and delivery of public services in the UK. The model of commissioning constructed by policy has however been overlaid on existing practices, which themselves differ between different service areas. This paper, focusing on commissioning of third sector organisations (TSOs) in the field of community mental health services, shows that its introduction has not led to the straightforward public sector ‘marketisation’ that advocates desire or that critics fear. Instead, commissioning has led to an indeterminate outcome or 'halfway house' position in which the status and role of commissioning remains somewhat muddled – both internally to participants within public sector organisations and externally in terms of the experience of the interface by TSOs. We found that commissioning as it is actually practiced remains contested and political – it is a highly relational process dependent on personal practices and skills and on personal relationships between stakeholders – and is therefore not fully managerialised or marketised. This has implications for the policy and practice of commissioning and the interpretation of more 'open' public services.