Consultoria para o 3o Sector

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Three-phase consultancy for the third sector

This case study on the Portuguese C3 project was presented at the EQUAL social economy conference in Warsaw on 10-12 May 2006

Conventional businesses make extensive use of intervention methodologies to improve their competitiveness and productivity, and to increase the qualifications of their workers. The C3 project adapted an intervention methodology used by conventional businesses to the characteristics of third sector/social economy organisations, proving that this methodology is an efficient way of supporting these organisations and their staff and contributes to the resolution of their problems.

This model helped social economy organisations to identify the problems affecting them at a given moment, establish a plan to solve those problems, implement short-term training schemes and consultancy, and evaluate the results obtained. The targeted organisations were able to improve the performance of their professionals and managers and, thus, increase the quality of their services and raise their autonomy and level of sustainability.


The main actors

The C3 development partnership was composed of a group of organisation with specific and complementary competences in local development, business consultancy, proximity to the social economy organisations, development of computer skills and evaluation. It included IEBA Business Centre Beira Aguieira (local development association), AEP Portuguese Business Association (the biggest business association in Portugal), ADICES Local Development Association (local action group from Leader+), IPN Pedro Nunes Institute (association promoting science and knowledge and technology transfer from university to companies) and UTAD Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro University.

They collaborated with six third sector/social economy organisations, selected as representatives of the four families of the social economy: two SSPI Social Solidarity Private Institutions (one providing child, family and elderly care and another working with mentally disabled people); two local development associations; a heritage and environment protection association and a cultural, sport, leisure and entertainment association. In its mainstreaming phase, the project also involved support structures for social economy organisations and territories, such as FENACERCI (social solidarity co-operatives federation), CERCIS, (confederation of culture, entertainment and sport communities), In Loco (local development association operating in Serra do Caldeirão in the Algarve) and Minha Terra (federation of Portuguese Leader associations).

The intervention model

In Portugal the third sector has a highly remarkable importance for economic and employment growth, although it is formed by organisations who have management and organisational problems, which reduce their efficiency and performance. In a future scenario of higher competition, the survival of many of these organisations may be threatened. Third sector organisations are simultaneously obliged to optimise costs, and reinforce their financial and organisational capacities.

In order to answer these challenges, C3 proposed an intervention model based on three main phases: Diagnosis, Development Plan and Implementation of Measures.

Phase 1: Diagnosis

General meetings, followed by individual interviews with the managers and workers are organised to find out organisations’ problems. Based upon this information a problem tree is built.

The main problems identified are:

  • Leadership. Third sector managers have other professional activities that do not allow them to dedicate enough time to the organisation’s management. The consequences are lack of authority/recognition by technical staff and difficulty in taking decisions.
  • Human resources management. This is one of the biggest problems detected and it takes several forms: interpersonal conflicts, high staff turnover, lack of performance indicators, low pay.
  • Financial management. Lack of management control, difficulty in negotiating with banks, poor financial accounting are often the result of insufficient skills in this area.
  • Organisational financing: high dependence on public money, cash flow problems, lack of financial and strategic autonomy.
  • Absence of strategic plan. Neither the organisation’s mission nor the strategy to reach it are properly defined. Lack of pro-active attitudes, leadership and financial autonomy do not help the definition of strategic plans.
  • Internal and external communication. The internal communication presents several gaps. Advertising material and communication activities are missing, often also a website.
  • Equipment and facilities. Lack of office space and modern equipment do not facilitate high-quality performance and high productivity.

Phase 2: Development plan

After the diagnosis, consultants draft a Development Plan, including a set of actions to guide the organisation – especially managers and workers – in implementing the most appropriate solutions to the recommendations resulting from the diagnosis process. Short, medium and long-term actions are proposed for the final resolution of problems. In each organisation, the proposed measures are presented and discussed at a general meeting. This procedure is meant to adapt the measures to the organisation, to legitimise them and to involve all the members in the decision-making.

Phase 3: Implementation of measures

The measures implemented are of two kinds: consultancy and professional training:

  • Consultancy is used to support managers and workers to solve problems and to introduce organisational changes, in a perspective of continuous organisational development.
  • Training has the purpose of solving diagnosed deficits in agreement with the parties.

In order for the intervention to be successful it is necessary to have a permanent interlocutor between the organisation and the intervention promoters, i.e. the liaison consultant. This person is responsible for the diagnosis and for the intervention plan although he may call for specialised consultants. The liaison consultant should have technical skills, methodological knowledge and relational and behavioural skills. The specialised consultant has specific skills on a given subject.

During this phase, the consultants prepared several products that were given to the organisations. The majority of these materials are available on the project website at

The great majority of the planned measures were successfully implemented, with the exception of the strategic plan, which did not have success in any of the three organisations where it was tested.

Success of methodology widely recognised

One of the reasons that explain the success of the C3 intervention methodology is its appropriateness to third sector organisations. The methodology is simple, focused on the organisation, and based on the identification of concrete problems and on the formulation of measures that suit the needs of individual organisations.

The problems inventoried through the diagnosis and the problems tree were approved without significant changes by employees and managers.

The methodology used by the C3 project has three interesting aspects:

  • External and impartial view widely appreciated by the members of the organisation. In some cases this external vision contributed to legitimising the necessity of intervention and to justify the change;
  • Structured and hierarchical presentation of the problems. It helps the organisation to systematise problems and to prioritise measures to be taken;
  • Participation of managers and workers.

The participative philosophy of this approach, particularly the involvement of managers and members of the organisation, is one of the main reasons to explain the success of this model. The fact that problems were identified in an interactive and participative way, listening to all members of the organisation, through a joint reflection where all the phases are validated, contributed enormously to the success of the intervention. The participative approach the consultants take throughout the whole process – from diagnosis to discussion of measures and their implementation –contributed greatly to the attenuation of probable internal resistances and simultaneously created a certain dynamic of change, which is crucial for the adoption and implementation of measures.

The participation of managers varied among organisations and during the process. The fact that almost all of them were volunteers and therefore had other jobs was the main reason for the limited participation of some of them. Besides, the experience of small businesses demonstrates that the intervention must not be started without the clear commitment of leaders (or entrepren-eurs).

The participation of leaders is also important in raising the participation of members of the organisation. Several measures were not implemented because of lack of interest or even resistance by the members of organisations. In some organisations the general meetings promoted within the project, as well as the individual interviews, provided the first opportunity for members to be heard.

The professionalism and the attitude of instructors/consultants were also fundamental for the success of the interventions. The good integration of specialised consultants/instructors in the organisations helped to create a favourable atmosphere for the implementation of measures.

Key aspects

Horizontal mainstreaming

During Action 2, the C3 project participated in various events, such as seminars, national and European forums, workshops and public presentations, where the project’s products were demonstrated to audiences formed mainly of managers and workers in third sector organisations. At national level the thematic group of social economy EQUAL projects made it possible to exchange information and experiences with other Portuguese projects. C3 hosted the Social Economy Thematic Forum: actions and reflections in the context of the projects supported by the European initiative EQUAL, which took place in Mortágua on 6th and 7th December 2004.

Action 3 is mainly devoted to dissemination and mainstreaming. The C3 DP decided to involve social economy umbrella organisations, third sector support structures and a university in order to implement a training scheme for C3 Agents – professionals able to implement the C3 intervention model. This action has a major dissemination potential since C3 Agents will be able to apply the C3 model to a large number of beneficiaries.

Vertical mainstreaming

During Action 3, C3 is trying to lobby for the creation of a National Support Programme for Organisational and Professional Development of Third Sector Organisations, within the Structural Funds Framework Programme. A broad information campaign and specific workshops have been organised to inform policy-makers of the potential and results of C3 methodology.

Local Development

The question of local development is related mainly to the transition from an experimental situation (Action 2) sufficiently disseminated (Action 3) to a wide and sustainable support action of social economy organisations. A National Support Programme for the Organisational and Professional Development of the Third Sector, if launched, would improve the qualifications of staff in social economy organisations, as well as the organisations’ performance, autonomy and level of sustainability. Their impact on local development processes would be amplified, as well as their capacity to offer quality services to local communities.


C3 adapted a methodology used with success within SMEs (small and medium size enterprises) to third sector organisations. For the first time, third sector organisations could benefit from a comprehensive plan that helped them to identify their problems, to find the right solutions and to implement them with the help of professional consultants.

Project products were validated both internally (by the partnership and training organisations) and externally (by experts), and were classified according to different criteria including their innovative characteristics.


As already mentioned, all the beneficiaries (managers and staff) were actively involved in the whole C3 process. Participants felt empowered since they were able to update their skills or develop new ones. Many of the changes proposed were simple things such as knowing how to chair a meeting. In one organisation regular meetings did not have an agenda and minutes were not taken; after the intervention meetings started to have and agenda and minutes. Moreover, the intense interaction between consultants and members of the organisation favoured the empowerment process.


DP name: C3 Consultancy for the Third Sector
DP ID: 2001/EQUAL/A3/EE/208
Carla Duarte
IEBA Business Centre Beira Aguieira
Parque Industrial Manuel Lourenço Ferreira
Lote 12, Apartado 38
3450-232 Mortágua
Tel: +351 231 927470
Fax: +351 231 927472