Competitive advantage in the new contrived social care marketplace: do we need a new theoretical framework?

Patricia Dearnaley (Managing Director, based at East Training & Consultancy Ltd, Bedford, UK)

Housing, Care and Support

ISSN: 1460-8790

Publication date: 9 September 2013



The purpose of this paper is to examine how far existing theories around contingency for competitive advantage are compatible with the “contrived market” in social care. The paper argues that the complexity of competing interests, especially for social housing as potential providers, require new tools for market analysis and particularly the need to become a “learning organisation”, to manage the particular characteristics of this specific quasi-market.


The paper draws upon original research developed through a single holistic case study of a UK social housing service, using qualitative research methods including document analysis, interviews, secondary data, observations and facilitated meetings.


Changes in the social care sector over the past 20 years have effected a fundamental shift in commissioning and delivery relationships, creating new markets for social care services. Yet existing business theory and models around contingency and competitive advantage do not suit this “contrived” New Public Management market. A new framework or model will be needed for analysis and business planning in this new environment.


This series of papers adds to existing knowledge by critiquing current business models, and positing a potential development to existing contingency theory.



Dearnaley, P. (2013), "Competitive advantage in the new contrived social care marketplace: do we need a new theoretical framework?", Housing, Care and Support, Vol. 16 No. 3/4, pp. 126-135.

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