My first idea was to add a dimension to the model, and turn the two dimensional model into a three dimensional tetrahedron adding a fourth domain to the three other domains. Should this be the domain of faith or values or knowledge? And what would then be the boundary that seperates the domain from the three other domains. And what about planet as another domain that is gaining in relevance. However, how could civil society be constrained by the planet? Will it help understand the concept of civil society space?
By pulling the civil society away from the base it would contribute to even more blurring of boundaries between power, profit and people, hence I felt the ball-shape needed sink into the base, which would either provide for a half bowl or require the model to add another tetrahedron perpendicular to the current one. Suddenly it struck me that this would be the answer to the dilemma of accomodating both the faith domain and the knowledge domain to the model at opposite sides civil society space. This would result in the following figure which I found to be a bipiramidal
Values embedded in faith systems or personal convictions may at times outweigh academic arguments in their ability to support or obstruct change. Both worlds carry truth claims that define people's hopes and fears and give them a sense of direction and purpose. One is lead by reason and the other lead by revelation. These are two different domains with different frames of reference. It would not be wise to place one hierarchically over the other. Both have their own jurisdiction and face limitations in interpreting beyond the boundaries that separate them (the physical/metaphysical boundary). Both influence all of the domains discussed before and support goal setting in each of the spaces. The Sustainable Development Goals are an illustration of how the goals area being negotiated and not for no reason civil society had a major part to play in bringing faith-based, interest-based and evidence-based approaches together.
An alternative approach was formulated by Biekart and Fowler, who introduced the Civic Driven Change (CDC) perspective as a more fluid and multi-dimensional approach taking civic energy and civic agency as a central feature in analysing civil society forces. According to the authors "The CDC lens is a way to overcome the constraints of a three-sector approach, as well as overcoming a biased ‘citizen-only’ view. It does so by focusing wider than the potential beneficial features of only civil society as a location and/or trigger for pro-social change. CDC looks for a more integrated form of society where all sectors are interlinked by socio-political forces, processes and goals."
However, both models have their limitations in grasping the complexity of civic space, its multidimensional character and the way it gets shape in international development cooperation. Over the last two years, while working with a faith-based NGO (FBO), I found that the overall theory of change of the organization did not speak very well to neither Pestoffs model nor the CDC approach of Biekart and Fowler, though the latter may be at closer range. Church and Community Transformation (CCT) as the Theory of Change of the organization was coined did not relate very well to the state nor the market as major instituional realities. At the same time, while exploring the CCT approach itself, I was confident that it contained crucial contributions to institutional change, which often sites values as a core regulator of institutional development processes. How to connect the dots?
The reason for both models not having sufficient traction with FBOs is probably the absence of the faith domain. Faith, or philosophies of life, may both function as a driver of change as well as a hindrance to change, as change itself is not value free. Also international secular NGOs have come to know the driving force of faith (see a.o. recent contributions by Meerkerk and Bartelink). Faith extends its influence in any of the other domains (community, state and market and also civil society). How to engage with faith communities and how to value their contribution towards good governance, sustainable entrepreneurship and responsible citizenship is something to further explore. Faith is often referred to as a hindrance to development. However, faith systems themselves evolve, though often at a different pace. On the other hand: faith systems also make important contributions in community mobilization for greater calls like the achievement of the sustainable development goals. They also have a very specific role in caring for people's soul, creating heart connections.
This role was best illustrated by the Education of the Heart conference that I once attended with the Dalai Lama as speaker and guest of honor. His message of educating the heart also speaks to our education systems in Europe. ‘At present our educational systems are oriented mainly toward material values and training one’s understanding. But reality teaches us that we do not come to reason through understanding alone. We should place greater emphasis on inner values’ is a quote you can find at a website of the Dalai Lama.
An audience of education experts listened carefully to what His Holiness had to say about Education of the Heart at a conference in Rotterdam in 2014 as resported on here by the Earth Charter and covered in an earlier blog on this website. At that time I was teaching institutional and organizational change to a classroom of international students. I was lucky to be able to bring them to the conference and even had one of our students from Uganda sharing his life story with the audience. His life story was a story of hope, illustrating how education has helped him literally escape from a life as child soldier, away form his village.
While subsequently working on innovation with Nuffic I also had trouble connecting the knowledge domain to civil society more prominently. Though featuring together in the often quoted Dutch diamond (consisiting of the knowledge system and public and private sectors as well as civil society) it remained quite a challenge to connect both world beyond the usual uptake of students and provision of traineeships at NGOs. Had the observations of the Dalai Lama anything to do with this lack of mutuality between our education and expert systems and in particular faith based agencies?
Faith and scientific contributions to civic space Last week the Civil Society Days at the OECD-DAC were held for the first time. The Development Assistance Committee of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, clearly sees the need of Civic Space for promoting good governance, responsible entrepreneurship and good citizenship. However, debates seem to circle around the presumed shrinking civic space without the space itself being properly articulated. Leading up to the Civil Society Days, Thomas Carothers and Saskia Brechenmacher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace identify four unresolved questions in their contribution to Development Matters. First of all they wonder: Is the space closing or changing? Carothers and Brechenmacher point to the current pressure on civic space as a more multidimensional phenomena and a much broader pattern of global democratic recession and authoritarian resurgence. Secondly they wonder if we are addressing symptoms or root causes? In other words: Are we attempting to support an enabling environment for civil society or should we more broadly fight backsliding on democracy, pluralism and human rights? Thirdly they point to global and local dimension of civic space, with the localization narrative seemingly not addressing some cross-border realities. And lastly, are aid agencies to blame for shrinking civic space? The question that repeatedly comes to my mind is: if this is about space, what are its dimensions and what are the configurations keeping it in shape? The four unresolved questions may point in the direction of an answer. But let us first consider the concept of space again.
A few years before starting this blog, back in 2012, I rediscovered Pestoff's triangle. The model helped me to visualize civil society space as a product of three boundaries: the public/private boundary, the for-profit/not-for-profit boundary and the formal/informal boundary. I have used this model quite successfully with international students as a tool to reflect on the institutional environment at home. Many discovered that the unhealthy lowering of the public/private boundary, in particular towards the market, basically implied a reduction of civil society space eventhough NGOs could somehow pickup on the failing governance and provide for alternative employment generation. It gave them a tool to understand the dynamics involved in generating a level playing field and role for civil society in achieving or maintaining it. Flor Avelino et al. (2015) has used the model to discuss the emergence of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and its effect on civil society space when not sufficiently monitored by civil society to ensure public benefit would not give way to private sector interests.
Credits for photographic material on this website: Credits to ZOA, Save the Children UK, Prisma and PSO for most of the photographic material. Photographs were taken while on duty travel for these organizations with prior consent of the people concerned, using a personal camera. Any use of these photographs should be requested to firstname.lastname@example.org.