Governance Through Civil Society (2020)
in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the role of civil society in public governance, defined as the process of steering society and the economy through collective action and in accordance with some common objectives. Civil society holds valuable experiences, resources and ideas that may be mobilized in support of public governance processes. The heightened interest in civil society has stimulated scholarly debates about the conceptualization of civil society that tends to be defined as an institutional realm of private associations, voluntarism, and active citizens. The theoretical perception on the role of civil society vis-à-vis public governance seems to have moved from mainly considering the governance of civil society and governance in civil society to focusing on governance with civil society through various forms of collaborative network governance and co‑creation processes. In other words, civil society is no longer perceived merely as a target for public governance initiatives promoted by state agencies, nor is it solely praised for its capacity for self-governance. Civil society has been re-casted as a competent and resourceful partner in processes of co-governance in which public and private actors create a common ground for joint problemsolving. The new research on co-governance prompts analysis of the conditions for engaging civil society actors in public governance, the potential benefits and problems of governance based on interaction with civil society, and the need for meta-governance of cross-boundary collaboration. Civil society is often associated with local, place-bound groups and associations, but it is equally important to consider the prospects for global governance to involve the emerging global civil society. The interest in how civil society can play a role in and contribute to public governance has come to stay and prompts us to reflect on future research avenues, including the key question of how we can create platforms for cross-boundary collaboration between public and private for-profit and non-profit actors. As such, the re-casting of civil society as a partner in the co-governance of society also seems to transform the state from an authority standing above society to an opportunity structure that promotes cross-boundary collaboration and co-creation of public value outcomes.