Civil society is one of the crucial parts of modern democracies. It’s a synergy of various groups, NGOs, and individuals who monitor local governments and try to articulate and advocate the subjects of public interest.Civil society organizations and NGOs play a key role in the prevention of corruption. They also struggle to transform authoritative politics and strengthen young democracies. Having these goals in mind, it’s no wonder that there are more than 10 million NGOs registered worldwide.
It can essentially be considered as the mediator between the authorities and the citizens who want to obtain certain rights or take specific actions. There are many ways to perform this function, so we are going to describe the role of civil society in government transformation more thoroughly in this article.
Functions of the civil society
Public opinion – in its various forms – has always been more or less influential throughout history. However, with contemporary development of democratic societies, citizens and organizations kept demanding more responsibility and transparency from their authorities. Political experts at Aussie Writings recently stated that modern civil society organizations “became so significant that they accumulated the power to transform societies and require changes in governance from authorities on both the local and state levels.”
Such role of civil society enables people to formulate and advocate their interests towards the government and the public. In that regard, contemporary CSOs essentially represent “organized citizens”. They cooperate or argue with authorities in order to adopt new regulations and monitor implementation. So, what are the basic functions of civil society exactly?
Civil society is trying to educate people and raise their legal consciousness. If citizens know their rights and how to perform them, it is more difficult for government structures to ignore demands of society. That’s why 80% of people believe that NGOs make it easy to get involved in positive social changes.
To agitate and advocate
A non-political sector is a powerful tool to influence governance and engage media or to accumulate financial means and submit petitions and memoranda. Through joint efforts of CSOs, it’s much easier to achieve goals which concern citizens in general.
Remember that representatives of civil society don’t only behave actively but also passively. They are always keeping an eye on local authorities and warning the public in case of any misuse or omission. In such circumstances, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the authorities to make (un)intentional mistakes without getting noticed.
A lot of successful professionals, including some very popular politicians, have started their careers as leaders of NGO’s. With its wide scope of subjects and education programs, this sector is a fruitful generator of highly-skilled individuals.
The promotion of democratic standards and values is often neglected but it’s actually one of the basic roles of civil society. Its representatives are important propagators of tolerance, multiculturalism, and reconciliation. All of these elements are obligatory preconditions for the governance transformation.
When it’s difficult to find the compromise between the government plans and public opinion, civil society is there to mediate between the two parties. Its mission is always to promote the public interest and force the authorities to take it into consideration prior to adopting policies or executing measures.
LEVELS OF CSO’s INFLUENCE
There are essentially three levels of communication between the civil society and state authorities in the process of creating public policies. Here they are:
1. Information: This is a one-way process in which all information goes from authorities to citizens. The government can inform the public according to its own interest but the citizens are also allowed to obtain information on their own initiative. This is the essence of the right to information.
2. Counselling: On this level of communication, state institutions seek and receive information from civil society in order to formulate public policies more successfully. This is the two-way relation that demands the election of concrete representatives of CSOs. They usually give advice and suggestions while writing new laws or local regulations.
3. Active participation: Sometimes it’s not enough to simply give suggestions or comment on draft documents. In this case, citizens
are actively involved in the creation of public policies as the members of work groups and state commissions.
Working on all those three levels, civil society representatives are able to improve the quality of state policies and also to support active citizenship in the process of government transformation. Though this process is not running smoothly most of the time, the task of CSOs is to keep working and try to contribute to the development of the more inclusive societies.
Changing the way that governments function is never easy and citizens as individuals are not able to do it single-handily. For that reason, civil society as a whole is giving a significant contribution to the implementation of democratic standards and governance transformation. It’s a never-ending game of checks and balances, but luckily enough – civil society has a number of mechanisms to protect the public interest.