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What Do Citizens Think About Government and Nonprofit Services?

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A team of five researchers from the AU School of Public Affairs (SPA) has published findings from a study that looked closely at how individuals view government and nonprofit services. The results suggest the need for collaboration between the public and private sectors to provide adequate support for citizens in need.

The paper, “Use and Perceptions on the Availability of Local Government and Nonprofit Services in Diverse Urban Settings,” appears in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. The SPA co-authors include Associate Professors Khaldoun AbouAssi and Lewis Faulk and three doctoral students: Long Tran, Lilli Shaffer, and Minjung Kim.
The researchers analyzed individual-level data from the first wave of the DC Area Survey, a survey of 1,200 residents from diverse neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. collected in spring 2016. The information reflected use of local government services and nonprofit services, as well as awareness of benefits available from those services.

“We present a unique analysis of the perceptions of individual service users to understand individuals’ levels of need for services, their perceived use of and satisfaction with local government, and their perceived use of local nonprofits,” said AbouAssi.

Individuals who report using government services––and are better served––are significantly more likely to take advantage of nonprofit services, according to the research. Those unserved by public programs are less likely to use or have access to nonprofits. At the local level, the analysis provides evidence that nonprofit services are perceived to complement rather than replace government services, but it also reveals important gaps in services to individuals living in the same communities.

The researchers discovered that individuals are more likely to express having access to and using nonprofit services if they also feel served by local government. In diverse local communities in the D.C. metro area, low-income families and people over age 65 are more likely to report a lack of adequate local government and non-profit services to serve their needs––even controlling for the number of service organizations in a person’s zip code. As Faulk noted, “These gaps in perceived levels of service occur across the metro area but also within the same neighborhoods, where individuals have the same numbers of service-providing organizations around them.”

“The findings question the ability of local government and nonprofits to fully serve all individuals on the local level––leading to disparities in public services and a lack of nonprofit alternatives for vulnerable families and individuals,” AbouAssi said. “This is a timely and important subject during the times we are going through.”