This article introduces a special issue on relations between governments and non-government organisations (NGOs) that collaborate in improving public service provision in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. NGOs are the focus because, although they are far from being the main non-state service provider, they are the sector most likely to enter into collaboration with governments. However, such collaboration is often thought to lead to the loss of NGO autonomy and capacity for independent public action. This article analyses the factors that have led to the growth of NGO service provision and to the call for their partnership with the government. It then describes the theoretical approach and the research framework on which the special issue is based. The approach considers the institutional and organisational constraints to which NGOs subject themselves by entering into relations with governments and also their capacity for ‘strategic choice’ in the exercise of influence. Lastly, the article summarises the contributions to this special issue and relates them to the wider literature. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.