There is no clear consensus that civil society organisations necessarily perform better or worse than private sector, government, or multilateral organisations. Few studies make direct comparisons of performance, but those that do show mixed results. This is not surprising, considering the wide range of organisations and country contexts.
This report focuses primarily on the subset of civil society organisations formally organised as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and on service delivery, which is the area most amenable to assessing organisational performance and the area in which civil society organisations, the private sector, and multilateral agencies are all active and can be most readily compared.
Current thinking appears to be that NGOs do not necessarily have a consistent cost-effectiveness advantage over other types of organisations, although they are often considered better at promoting participation. NGOs that have developed close relationships with international funding agencies or that operate on the large scale (e.g. nationally and internationally) may have lost some of the independence and flexibility that originally distinguished NGOs from other kinds of organisations. It is difficult to draw general conclusions, though, because there is wide variation among NGOs (as well as among private sector and state organisations) and because it is difficult to compare performance across different activities and country contexts.