The Civil Society and Governance Programme was a major research project funded by the Ford Foundation and based at IDS.
The three-year research programme, established in April 1998, examined the interplay between civil society and governments in 22 different countries, spanning six international regions.
The idea of ‘civil society’ has achieved prominence in political and developmental discourse over the past two decades, particularly in connection with successive waves of democratisation, beginning in Latin America and Eastern Europe, and spreading across the developing world. In normative terms, civil society has been widely seen as an increasingly crucial agent for limiting authoritarian government, strengthening popular empowerment, reducing the socially atomising and unsettling effects of market forces, enforcing political accountability, and improving the quality and inclusiveness of governance. Reconsideration of the limits of state action has also led to an increased awareness of the potential role of civic organisations in the provision of public goods and social services, either separately or in some kind of ‘synergistic’ relationship with state institutions.
However, general notions of ‘civil society’ have often been overly optimistic and have disregarded the ambiguities and conflicts inherent in real civil societies. Moreover, the potentially positive impact of civil society is hard to realise in countries where states are strong and civil organisations still weak, especially amid political conflict and economic decline. We need to come to a clear determination of the character and roles of civil society, the strengths and weaknesses of civil associations in their relations with governance, and the ways in which they can be strengthened and their roles made more creative.
Therefore the main aims of this research programme were:
- To gain a clearer analytical and practical understanding of the character and functions of civil society, both in general and in the light of systemic and other variations between and within regions.
- While recognising that civil organisations can play a number of potentially positive roles, to concentrate on those activities which can enhance (or detract from) the quality of political life and governance in different societies.
- To develop practical measures which can strengthen civil society and enhance its impact as an agent for improving political life and governance — with particular emphasis on seeking ways to improve government policies toward poor, excluded and vulnerable groups, and to strengthen their access to and influence on the policy process.
A number of Policy Briefs were produced to highlight a variety of critical topics and themes related to Civil Society and Governance, composed by in-country researchers and IDS Fellows involved in the programme:
- Improving Governance: Civil Society’s Efforts for More Accountable Government in Latin America, Enrique Peruzzotti
- Civil Society and Democratic Decentralisation: The Increasing Importance of User Committees, James Manor
- Disappointments Reconsidered: Civil Society’s Efforts for Better Governance, James Manor
- Old Hat? Civil Society in New Democracies, James Manor
- Some Basic Principles for Meeting the Challenges of Civil Society – Government Relations, Phiroshaw Camay and Anne Gordon
- ‘To be or not to be?’: Civil Society as ‘Insiders’ in Politics, Juree Vichit-Vadakarn
- Civil Society: Diverse Forms and Multiple Constituencies, Juree Vichit-Vadakarn
- Civil Society and Policy Reforms, Rajesh Tandon
- Participatory Budgeting, Aaron Schneider
Additional outputs from the Programme include a selection of the Country Reports as below. Further material from the Programme is available on request. Please e-mail [email protected]