The challenge of citizen initiatives and civic engagement

THEORY OF CHANGE: the unbearable thought of beginning at the end
June 6, 2018

The challenge of citizen initiatives and civic engagement

How does civil society get empowered in higher levels of the decision-making process? How is the voice of a forum echoed? How are civil initiatives and alliances formed? Why some success on time and others fail immediately? Is this related to any specific form of civic engagement or social “maturity”? Can civil society initiatives be able to develop an intermediate role?

One of the main challenges for civil initiatives is to find a common forum in the decision-making process where their interests can be articulated and represented. The second challenge of these civil initiatives remains to be able to establish a negotiation consensus game between all the stakeholders with their different interests. In a manner, it supposes “a long way” through the institutions (the rules, procedures, norms and practices) and the formal decision-making bodies of a state.

Reeve (2003) suggests nested hierarchies as arrangements that accommodate the pattern interest and interdependences between resource and actors involved as a common implementation space for politics, enumerating several effectiveness principles. This space allows the flourishing of participatory democracy and governance concept and formal institutions in form of partnership and alliances between stakeholders (associative governance) (Bakker, 2008) or intermediaries (Moss, 2008).

Three main roles of citizen initiatives can be described in terms of governance principles in an inclusive ad shared exertion of power to participate equally in the decisions-making process.

  • Transparency: the availability of information to general public and clarity in creation and application of rules, regulations and decisions by being informed.
  • Accountability: holding responsible authorities accountable for their actions, by citizen consultation and networking
  • Participation and mobilization: providing to all citizens with a voice in the decision-making either directly or through legitimate intermediate institutions that represent their interest.

Many of civil initiatives are based on the principle of volunteering which brings added values of non-profit interest and high commitment. Civil society[1] initiatives based on volunteering are at the latest expression in fostering civic engagement thorough the three levels above described: transparency, accountability, and participation.

Cultural trigger seems to mark an “inflexion point” in changing traditional paradigms and old approaches together with an increasing ecological realism. Advocacy coalitions and innovative alliances between existing and new actors in the political arena (public‐private‐community partnerships – PPCPs – as collaborative governance) as well as a an “overture” due to technologies of information with a more globalization image of peoples facing same problems in different realities as well as core and deep cultural values offers an alternative vision and how problems should be approached. In that way, historical rights and new criteria not only based in economic efficiency such as a social-equity and ecological sustainability awareness make services management an political issue of public debate and dialogue seeking for a negotiated consensus allowing greater levels of transparency accountability and participation (Tabara, 2007).

Nevertheless, authors as Bakker (2008) have been looking more critically at community alternatives in terms of ownership and governance, pointing out that involving communities in the decision-making process improve governance in terms of transparency and accountability but these initiatives have difficulties to considered issues related to service delivery performance (specially in operational management and financing[2]).

[1]          The questioning capacity of civil society on a determined approach or paradigm remains in his social structure as non-structured sector which get the biggest strength in his capacity to absorb individuals under a common idea. When civil society is structured, we “kill” the capacity of people to question and the identity must be reshaped through an accompanying the process as intermediaries.

[2]    Bakker (2008) points out 5 critiques to the community managed services. (1) “public” or community management is not a sufficient condition for better services (2) Involvement of community risk in condoning the most attractive cities, areas by both public and private utilities (3) Implementing some of the “commons” organizational form will not automatically bring desired changes (4) partnership and participation can be deviated of initial purpose in reaching poor population (5) community initiatives frequent reject the state role even when it remains the bets vehicle to balance consumer interest and against other interest. In most of the cases, community governance models only are successful when implemented with service-delivery approaches.

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