THE ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN GOOD GOVERNANCEINTRODUCTIONWith the change of the century, globalization and development have increased at a very rapid rate. The technological and economical aspect of this development have led to a huge increase in the development of civil services and the social dependence on the them.
The concept of civil society dates back to approximately 2500 years ago to Greek and Roman societies. Also, these societies have helped in taking the goal of ‘good governance’ forward at a global level. This paper focuses on the role of civil society in the good governance by also taking the example of India. Throughout both ancient and modern history, ideas about civil society and governance have each followed their own complex and multifaceted trajectories but their relevance to one another has remained undeniable. Influenced by changing historic realities and varied socio-political contexts, different schools of thought have evolved regarding both the nature of the relationship between civil society and governance, as well as the level of importance placed on the link between the two. WHAT IS CIVIL SOCIETY?Civil society as a concept contains elements that are diverse, complex and above all, contentious .
To clarify the concept we first go back to its historical and philosophical roots in order to demonstrate how the concept was understood in different contexts. Until the end of the 18th century, the term civil society used by main European philosophers such as Aristotle, Rousseau or Kant was synonymous with the state or political society . ‘Civil’ was set against the state of ‘nature’ or against ‘uncivilized’ forms of government, like despotism. Thus, “Civil society in this conception expresses the growth of civilization to the point where society has become ‘civilized.’Civil society is the sector of voluntary action within institutional forms that are distinct from those of the state/political sphere, family and economy/market, keeping in mind that in practice the boundaries between these sectors are often complex and blurred; it consists of a large and diverse set of voluntary organizations, competing with each other and oriented to specific interests. It comprises non-state actors and associations that are not purely driven by private or economic interests, are autonomously organized, and interact in the public sphere; thus, civil society is independent from the state and political sphere, but it is oriented towards and interacts closely with them.
Civil society is seen as differentiated from the market and the business sector (economic sphere) as well as from the family/private realm. These sectors can be also viewed as partially overlapping in the sense that their boundaries are sometimes blurred. Some authors emphasize this reality by considering how some actors can operate in various spheres or sectors simultaneously. Some research stresses that specific actors are in general attributed to specific sectors but can occasionally also act as civil society. For example, entrepreneurs belonging to the business sector are acting in civil society when demanding tax exemptions from the state.
This understanding also helps to uncover other actors who have a role as civil society, such as traditional groups in Africa. These authors prefer to characterize civil society as the space between the sectors. Civil society is thus, the public realm between state, business and family. FUNCTIONS AND IMPACT OF CIVIL SOCIETYCivil societies can take on many forms and can change based on the communities that they emerge from, making the term somewhat ambiguous. In one definition, civil society can be the perspective of looking at societies as a community of people sharing common interests and activities. Civil society includes the family and the private sphere, separating itself from governments and the private sector of business.
Generally, civil societies manifest as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as other similar groups and institutions. These organizations are typically run by people experiencing some sort of dissatisfaction with the status quo, who then through the power of the collective civil society, advocate for the change they want. Civil societies are often comprised of groups of people who have been marginalized, oppressed or underrepresented. Civil societies can form anywhere that people are experiencing these inequities, but they are especially common among groups and nations who have a long history of economic and political instability. In these situations, civil societies create a voice and a call-to-action for people without autonomy and access.
Civil societies are often less formal than they may sound. While some civil societies do manifest as defined and structured organizations, many are simply groups of people who share the same cause. These civil societies often have no official or elected leaders and many may not have political channels or representation to allow their actions to have a large impact. It is important to consider this when looking at the roles and impacts of civil societies.
Regardless of their lack of direct political influence, civil societies have been some of the main drivers of change and progress throughout history. This has become especially prevalent with the emergence of social media which allows messages from movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Zapatistas to reach the world. Due to their lack of official leaders, these civil societies typically function based on shared governance, allowing the people experiencing a problem to advocate for themselves and their desired change. In Brazil, for example, there are over 200 organizations working to advocate for the poor in São Paulo.
These organizations are all experiencing a change in leadership and representation as Brazil continues to grow as an impetus for human rights and justice in South America. Many of these civil society organizations are seeing the gap between the represented and their representatives close, allowing people to advocate for themselves in a meaningful way. While it may appear that civil societies and civil society organizations can only operate at a local level, there are hundreds of growing organizations around the world that are working to advocate for people who share common inequities across borders. Among these civil society organizations are NGOs, trade unions, faith-based organizations, indigenous people’s movements, etc. all working outside of the government to bring equity across borders, using globalization and the media to their advantage. This network of organizations can be defined as the global civil society which is rapidly expanding, following the same template as more localized civil societies: a participatory democratic structure, representation for the underrepresented, and upholding the universal values and experiences of marginalized groups across borders.
SHORT NOTE ON GOOD GOVERNANCEGovernance is the process by which a society manages itself through the mechanism of the state. The core ingredients of good governance are: People’s effective participation, transparency, responsiveness, consensus orientation, equity and inclusiveness, the rule of law, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability, and strategic vision. These are crucially value-laden and constitute the bedrock of democracy.
CIVIL SOCIETY AND GOVERNANCE ISSUES The contribution made by civil society to good governance is essentially concerned with the means by which organized interests seek to influence and engage with state institutions. In doing so, they usually help to strengthen state legitimacy and relations of trust between public officials and ordinary citizens. As we noted above, however, not all civic organizations engage in activities designed to promote better governance. Some actively conspire to undermine good governance by aggressively pursuing self-interested goals or by fomenting violence against the state or other organized groups. Others consciously seek to evade or disengage themselves from formal state structures through various forms of collective action in the informal economy. The contribution of civil society to good governance may be summarized under four headings: public policy and decision making; enhancing state performance; transparency and information; and social justice and the rule of law.
Public Policy and Decision Making Civil society organizations can play a role in mobilizing particular constituencies to participate more fully in politics and public affairs. Wealthy and socially dominant groups are better able to organize themselves and, by virtue of superior resources and social status, are able to exert considerable influence over public policy. They can form and support intermediary organizations to represent and articulate their interests in an effective manner. Poor and socially disadvantaged groups — marginal peasants, sharecroppers, landless labourers, artisans, informal sector workers, urban slum dwellers, disabled people and certain categories of women — are usually much less able to exercise influence over public policy and resource allocations. Higher rates of political participation often result from institutional innovations – such as democratic decentralization — designed to promote local involvement in decision-making.
But such innovations will only be effective if grassroots organizations and social movements can organize the poor and articulate their demands at local and higher levels. I feel that the governments should be open to effective interactions with the civil society and interest groups, and are able to take a variety of views into consideration in the policy and law making processes. In this respect, transparency in the work of the governments is critical to make them responsive.Transparency and Information Civil organizations are thought to contribute to better governance by improving transparency and increasing the availability of information about the making and implementation of government policy.
Activities from within civil society to promote these goals include the discovery, publication and dissemination of information about items of legislation, legal provisions, public expenditure allocations, the implementation of policy and programs, and special enquiries. Such information may be directly published and circulated by groups within civil society, or distributed through new or existing media outlets. These groups may also seek to mobilize citizens to pressure governments into implementing existing legislation and by taking action to indict public officials who are involved in malfeasance. Efforts to enhance transparency in government may contribute to poverty reduction by helping citizens monitor the delivery of development resources and staunch the appropriation of resources by bureaucrats and local elites. This suggests a more activist role for civil society, in which civic actors back up information and dissemination activities with mobilization and public advocacy work.
It also raises questions about the transparency and legitimacy of civic organizations which cannot be taken for granted.