Beyond "Filling in"

I am Italian and here, at least in my area, volunteers and non-profits often are used to “fill the gaps”, offering social and cultural services that the public administration cannot guarantee or at a fraction of the costs.

Now in many communities public resources are being cut, especially those for cultural activities, and programs either run by the local administration or funded by it are on the way to a similar destiny. On the other hand, many resource-constrained communities are very rich in terms of volunteers that put those programs together and worked hard to make them feasible with the already scarce economic resources. In this scenario the municipality used to  do some screening and allocate resource. I think this new environment leaves us with two central questions

  1. Now that local administrations are not longer able to do the latter, what should be their role? 
  2. How can communities keep their cultural programs alive?
I think a key element in any solution requires a change in perspective: communities should capitalize on the human and social resources they have, with the help of the administration. Institutions that can no longer offer financial support should consider what other resources or skills they can put on the plate and refrain from giving up the role of offering guidance and setting objectives and priority. From my personal experience as a volunteer this often doesn't happen, even when considering the services I was mentioning in the beginning, with actors wasting their efforts due to "overlapping" and many possible synergies overlooked. Meaningful things can often be done with limited resources when all actors are working toward the same goal and sharing their skills or other non monetary resources. 

I think that the scarcity of resources could at least lead to more cooperation even in communities, like mine, where actors were very unwilling in the past. In any case, I think that protecting cultural programs from extinction is up to us: in a climate in which it’s politically very hard to justify any expense in this domain, citizens need to take an active role, both volunteering and voicing their support for such programs.

I would love to know how public institutions and non-profit actors interact in other european countries. Are your communities facing similar challenges?

Some question!

Dear brightfutureforall, these are a hell of a question, especially number 1. I am hoping several people coluld rise to compare notes with you: people like @aguspiedrabuena in Spain, @ela in Germany, @james in the UK, @adria in Denmark, @decida in Sweden, @Stefania in Italy…

I suggets you ping them by leaving them messages on their Edgeryders walls, let’s see what they have to say!

Dear Alberto, thank you for the suggestions, I will contact them. I am sure many Edgeryders and for especially you have a much deeper knowledge of the issue. I was wondering, does this reflect the general situation? Do you think that kind of role is actually feasible for local administrations in Italy? Recently I feel like some have just abdicated completely to third sector efforts… And some of these actors are doing just the same, it’s disheartening. However, there is some hope and some discussions in the direction of cooperation :slight_smile:

Culture or third sector?

Bright, I don’t really know all that much about local gov, not even in Italy - let alone on an European scale. I know practically nothing about culture, which seemed to me to be the issue you were worrying about in your report. But now you are talking about third sector engagement: I have no data on that either, but it seems that they have all kinds of incentives to make the most of civil society initiatives in their communities, exactly because of serial budget cuts and general austerity that you describe.

My direct experience is mainly reated to cultural initiatives, but I think the issue is relevant in any domain there is some sort of partnership between public and private actors. I just hope these can evolve to adapt to the new environment, that would be a great result. My fear is we might go in the opposite direction since it seems rare to find people\institution willing to challenge and rethink their current roles.