Civil Exchange has been working with civil society leaders and others to develop a shared vision of how civil society and government can work more effectively together; and launched a collection of think pieces on this subject, Civil Dialogue, on 21st July 2011. It is also part of a collaborative of organisations that is developing A Call to Action for the Common Good, which proposes principles derived from civil society that can be applied across all sectors.
Civil Exchange believes that where the two sectors work well together it brings mutual benefits, for example, building stronger capacity and greater effectiveness and efficiency in both sector
As a starting point for further debate, Civil Exchange has proposed the following principles to help make sure those benefits are fully realised:
- The voluntary sector should be a genuine partner, recognised as a generator of “social wealth” and well-being.
- Voluntary sector knowledge should be an essential input to government policy and public services.
- The creation of “social wealth” should be rewarded in government contracts.
- Independence should be respected and government contracts should allow free action in how contracts are delivered in order to foster innovation and deliver better results.
- The financial context of the voluntary sector should be recognised in contractual arrangements -eg difficulty in raising working capital.
- The voluntary sector may need to combine forces more or form private sector partnerships, where this best achieves its objectives.
In Civil Dialogue, 21 leading figures from civil society and beyond reflect on the opportunities for effective working between government and civil society. There are a variety of views and perspectives but also some emerging themes.
Back in 2011, there was a feeling that, without urgent action, the speed and front-loading of recent government cuts and long-standing barriers to effective working could lead to serious damage. There were fears for the viability of some organisations and concerns about a shift from preventative action to “damage control” which would hurt the people and communities civil society serves, many of whom are already disadvantaged and disempowered. Events since then have largely confirmed those fears.
Yet there’s an alternative possibility – a “new social contract,” formed around the common good, with new collaborations, public service delivery in “co-production with service users” and stronger democratic accountability, as government taps into civil society’s connections with communities. That’s backed up by better support and recognition for civil society as a key generator of “social wealth.”
Civil Dialogue contains many good ideas to help achieve this more positive vision, including changes to government funding and commissioning practices, greater sharing of experience and leadership development across sectors and the creation of new networks and collaborations by charitable trusts to work with government in new ways. To find out more, click here.