This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.


It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.


It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Civil society as a platform for new community paradigms

We have continued to delve deeper into the three broad areas that have so far defined the effort of creating new community paradigms, physical livability of communities [Livable Communities wiki page], community-based governance [Governance wiki page] and economic viability [Economics wiki page]. We have explored where these concepts have come together such as with Place as Economic and Social Engine wiki page. There is however still something fundamentally important missing. The role of the agents bringing all of this about and a system to hold them together.

A claim to be seeking new paradigms within our communities needs to go beyond changing institutions which would be similar to transplanting a new organ to changing the basic means by which individual community members interact within the governance of their community which would be similar to cellular gene therapy.

This blog looks for resources for developing new community paradigms through community and economic development programs across the nation. It is also willing to cross oceans for good ideas. One source is Vern Hughes, Director for the Australian Centre for Civil Society  and host of the LinkedIn group Civil Society Global Network.

It should however be made clear that what comes next and how it relates to new community paradigms is only the view of this blog and not necessarily of anybody else in the Civil Society Global Network group. I do have to though give a great deal of credit to Mr. Hughes and the other members of the Civil Society Global Network group for many of the ideas or at least their inspiration.

The Australian Civil Society movement uses the term “Civil Society” in a manner different from what we may be familiar with:
The term does not refer to 'politeness' or 'civility' in public life, as important as this is. It refers to that part of society that is not part of the state, hence the term 'civilian' when used to distinguish a person in civil society from military personnel or state officials, or the notion of a civil offence in law which is an offence between persons in civil society rather than a criminal matter.
The term Civil Society in this context defines a different role for the citizen or perhaps reverts to an older role particularly concerning ‘voluntary participation‘ as opposed to 'volunteering' in one’s community making one a producer of democratic governance and not merely a consumer.

According to the Civil Society Global Network's profile:
Around the world, individuals, groups and movements are searching for ways to empower citizens and communities, and reconfigure the relationship between civil society and states and markets.

The term 'civil society' refers to the relationships and associations that make up our life at grass-roots levels of society, in families, neighbourhoods and voluntary associations, independent of both government and the commercial world. Our aim is to strengthen civil society and empower people within it.
One important contribution to this effort has been the creation of a Manifesto for the Mobilisation of Civil Society.pdf which is also featured at the Civil Society wiki page.  The Manifesto for the Mobilisation of Civil Society.pdf is
directed to political movements, parties, governments and social movements around the world. It is seen as a tool for the awakening and mobilization of civil society as a transformational force in global affairs. It provides a set of signposts for where political movements, parties, governments and social movements should be heading, and a checklist for use by civil society in monitoring their movement.
Manifesto for the Mobilisation of Civil Society.pdf’ is
a demand and a declaration by those individuals who have decided to actively take part in civil society that these organizations or institutions will need to and shall made to re-orientated their outlook to fit the awakening of civil society. It also seeks a mobilization of civil society to achieve this shift.
This, as this relates to the creation of new community paradigms is in my view, not only a trend, it is a necessity and it is my belief that this must start at a community level. It is fundamental in maintaining a necessary sense of civic engagement in the governance of our communities, particularly in defining the relationship between individual community members and institutions.

This is not calling for a change in institutions but a change in the relationships between citizen with state and customer with markets. Institutions cannot contain or express the diversity of connections and initiatives that people in civil society want in shaping their lives and are now more possible than ever.

Our role as citizens over time has increasingly been defined through institutions. It is in part the growing dependency upon institutions or organizations that has separated people from matters of civil society decisions. People have become consumers of political and economic institutions changing back and forth from one supplier to another.

Some of the changes now going on in the public sector are apparent. There is no doubt that the means by which we finance the public sector has to change and that the private sector will play a larger role in many aspects. This should not mean though that the relationship between the community and place should be reduced to a consumer-based relationship.

Purpose
Civil society in my view is distinct from political movements, governments and markets. It has been in the background for too long and can be renewed and energized by deliberative public decision-making and entrepreneurial initiative by individuals.

The political philosophies and economic theories which led us to our current state of affairs were based primarily on political institutions of the state and economic institutions making up our markets. This new form of civil society being proposed is not dependent upon formal organizations or institutions.

Civil society defined here in its broadest terms is antecedent to these institutions. Our democratic forms of government arose out of civil society not the other way around. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, there was a disconnect that only grew bigger.

As the rights of individuals under civil society are not endowed by institutions whether political or market there is a means by which citizens can exercise their democratic rights not only over political institutions but within markets over private companies concerning resources, have an impact on the environment, financial sustainability and other issues.

This perspective of civil society provides a meaningful framework for understanding the aspirations, relationships and initiatives of people in civil society. The emerging dynamism of civil society can make it possible for people to reshape political institutions and economic systems to fundamentally reform them to satisfy social initiatives and connections arising in our communities. To do so though, civil society efforts to implement new community paradigms must contend with two forces, bureaucracy and politics.

Our institutional forms of government and political parties seem incapable of finding common ground and making rational decisions. If the actions of civil society were made into another institution, we would be no further along. It would do little good to create a system of formal civil society organizations to merely compete directly within the existing political space with existing state actors or institutions. To my mind such a strategy does not fully appreciate what is being proposed by the civil society movement. The creation of new community paradigms needs to address issues in an organized manner but this does not mean that an entrenched organization or institution needs to be created.

Bureaucratic Institutions
Communities are not limited to a choice of depending upon entrenched bureaucracies or putting more power into the private sector. They can also recognize the collaborative power that can arise from civil society.

The question is not one of more or less bureaucracy but of a workable bureaucracy that benefits civil society. It should be recognized that bureaucracy can be used to serve in maintaining the daily activities of desired programs. Civil society on its own may not always ensure welfare and democracy, particularly on a daily basis in a cost efficient manner. Institutions may arguably remain a necessary vehicle to implement many of the broadly applied social policies we wish for our communities but we have lost the community or civil purpose behind these efforts bowing instead to the needs of the institutions. Over time the focus has become more a matter of maintaining the institution and not the social needs of the community for which it was created.

A functioning civil society based on new community paradigms would be more able to implement a ‘working’ bureaucracy, i.e. an efficient one, working for the benefit of a community to address the essential requirements to maintain the social welfare and democracy.

Political Institutions
Another important aspect of the need by our communities for new community paradigms is the inability of our current institutions to adapt to the new emerging times. In the era of social participation and social networks, we still use public participation systems which are hundreds of years old despite there now being technological systems that can get responses by the public on specific policy measures being approved at the broadest level in real time instead of every four years. We have the technology available in modern society to access information which could be made available and transparent to help drive critical decision-making to more local levels.

Public institutions might be expected to make investments in technology systems that are capable of providing secured private and confidential participation by the public in policy decisions, and some communities do but often only in a limited manner and not every governmental organization is that eager to give up their power.

The establishment of a civil society perspective would allow principles of democracy to be applied more widely. civil society could develop a system for contributing into a strong democratic bureaucracy that is adaptable and responsive to the needs and will of the citizenry, rather than unilateral regulations from a rigid bureaucratic machine.

Establishing a system of organized collaboration and deliberative democratic participation based on principles of civil society could be readily optimized with available technological resources and modern practices of deliberative democratic organizing. Deliberative democratic organizing based on civil society principles would focus on community needs not political wants.

This is an organic, community-based bottom-up approach meeting somewhere in the middle with law and regulation emerging from a top down institutional approach. Incorporating civil society principles into the effort of implementing new community paradigms creates a means of working within decision-making processes to effect change.

Continuing Considerations
What remains to be answered is what organizational and political responsibilities rest with civil society itself and how do we make this binding? Implementation of these principles will be a challenge not only in reeducating ourselves as participants in civil society but from avoiding push back by institutions seeking to maintain their hold on power or by those who simply don’t like change. There will always be those would try to take advantage using these principles for their own gain, but any attempt to be predatory or to accumulate wealth at the expense of others would not be based on principles of civil society. These changes will also come slowly until some type of tipping point is reached. Until the culture around us changes profoundly many political organizations and institutional bureaucracies will continue to suffer the abuse and bullying that is so evident everywhere.

Even if the principles of a civil society were fully implemented there would still need to be discussions to the balance of individual rights and social needs and welfare. For example, how much influence can be imposed upon individuals how they run their own business or organization that they have created? To what extent do other people get to directly decide how much a grocer should charge for goods or is that better left up to free market competition and indirect influence through the market?

The principles of civil society provide a platform on which these discussions can take place without being usurped by institutional powers.

The strengthening of civil society can be seen one antidote to the failures of institutional government’s calcification of means and purpose into unresponsive bureaucratic regulations. It can also be a vaccine to the continued loss of democratic governance within those institutions and the ability to define one’s community based upon common community principles and not merely a list of menu choices unilaterally offered by a MacGovernment.

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