WP 529 Civic driven change: a narrative to bring politics back into civil society discourse

ISS Working Paper 529 by Alan Fowler and Kees Biekart


Politics is central to development discourse, yet remains peripheral. And, over some twenty years, a civil society narrative has not fulfilled its potential to ‘bring politics back in’. Reasons can be found in conceptual confusion, in selectivity in donor thinking and policies towards civil society and in the growth-driven political economy of NGO-ism. Remedies for the political lacunae are being sought through a focus on rights, citizenship and leadership that show valuable, focused progress.

This paper examines a comprehensive complement to such efforts referred to as civic driven change (CDC). Originating in a grounded empirical approach, the constituent principles and elements of CDC offer a lens that can both sharpen and deepen insights and advance analysis of socio-political processes. As a work in progress, a CDC narrative is illustrated by reference to contemporary examples of citizen action that play out at multiple sites of governance.

Keywords: Civil society; Civic Driven Change; Citizenship; Institutional sectors; Power; Civic agency; Empowerment; Micro-politics

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About the authors

Alan Fowler has over forty years work as a project manager; an adviser to a range of development organisations; as a Visiting Fellow at the World Bank Washington, D.C. and with the Society for Participatory Research in Asia, New Delhi: as well as a programme officer in the Ford Foundation. This practical knowledge is complemented by research, writings and appointments as an affiliate Professor of Civil Society and International Development, at ISS, Erasmus University, the Netherlands; as an honorary research professor, Centre for Civil Society, University of Natal; and as a visiting Senior Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University. He also has additional working experience in French, Dutch and Arabic speaking countries as a teacher, a manager in transnational companies and as an engineer. Alan Fowler is co-founder, in 1991, of the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC) based in Oxford, U.K, and in 2005 of Inter-Mediation International, a US registered NGO dedicated to enhancing the relational capabilities of development actors. Recent voluntary service has been as board member and past president of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) and as a board member of CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

Kees Biekart is Associate Professor in Political Sociology, at ISS. Before coming to ISS he worked as a research co-ordinator at the Transnational Institute (TNI) in Amsterdam. His area of expertise is social movements, civil society, NGOs, citizenship and foreign aid, in particular in relation to Latin America. He has served as the President of the Netherlands Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (NALACS) and is a Board Member of the Transnational Institute. He co-ordinates the Knowledge Programme on Civil Society Building between ISS and Hivos, and is with Alan Fowler the co-ordinator of the Civic Driven Change Think Tank. He also is a co-editor of the journal Development and Change.

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Publication date: 08 December 2011