Studying the Civil Society
The 9th World Assembly of the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS) ‘Acting Together for a Just World’ took place in Montreal on August 20th-23rd and involved about 500 delegates from 70 countries, with representatives from NGOs, international organizations, media, business and research institutions, including the Higher School of Economics.
The Assembly was organized in partnership with the Institut du Nouveau Monde with the support of the Canadian International Development Agency, the Government of Quebec, UN Development Programme and several other organizations. The main topic of the Assembly was the search for answers to questions facing civil society in the areas of economy, development and climate change.
СIVICUS is an authoritative international NGO with its head office in Johannesburg (RSA) bringing together over 450 members from 110 countries. In 2009 the HSE Center forStudies of Civil Society and Non-for-profit Sector started working with this organization on the international comparative research CIVICUS Civil Society Index. The study combined massive empirical and qualitative research with public discussion and distribution of the results.
This international project has been implemented in line with the methodology of the World Alliance in more than 50 countries, including Russia. We plan to prepare and widely discuss the ‘Civil Society Index in Russia’ report, to publish it and distribute on Russian and international scientific and social ‘grounds’. To implement the project and broaden research collaboration on civil society in the most successful and effective way, in 2009 the Higher School of Economics and the World Alliance signed an agreement on cooperation, which made the HSE an official member of this organization.
The programme of the Montreal Assembly included theoretical discussions at plenary sessions and section meetings, which were further developed in open forum discussions and planning of joint projects at special events, as well as information and experience exchange.
Some of the section meetings of the Assemble were devoted to the problems of civil society and non-profit sector studies, including ‘A Decade of Participatory Research: Does it Help Development?’, ‘Action-Research Across Boarders: Civil Society Index Cooperation Initiatives’ as well as many others. Scientific sections of the Assembly were devoted to the results received from research projects in various countries and inter-country comparisons. Among the participants of these sections were civil society researchers as well as representatives from international organizations interested in the results of such studies.
Liliana Proskuryakova, research fellow at the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, unveiled a presentation prepared by her together with Irina Mersiyanova, Director of the HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Non-for-profit Sector (CSCSNS) entitled ‘Ten Years of Participatory Research in Russia’. She spoke about the research and educational activities of this Centre and gave a detailed overview of its monitoring studies and some of their most interesting results. In particular, Dr. Proskuryakova spoke about the methods of civil society’s basis determination and the classification of Russian regions in the context of conditions for civil society development. Russia’s key specific feature in comparison with many other countries where CIVICUS Civil Society Index is being implemented is the diversity of Russian regions and their citizens. In 83 Russian regions located over 9 time zones, there are more than 180 ethnic groups, with various levels of revenue, education and involvement in civil society activities.
L. Proskuryakova told the audience about the applied use of the Centre’s research results in educational programmes, for organizing public discussions at conferences and seminars, as well as advising the country’s governmental bodies. The Centre’s international activity involves not only the implementation of the massive CIVICUS Civil Society Index project, but also the realization of the project entitled ‘Comparative Studies of Non-Profit Sector’, carried out in partnership with John Hopkins University (USA), as well as presentation of research results on international forums and membership in international organizations.
In response to questions from participants of the sections, many of whom implement the CIVICUS Civil Society Index in their countries, L. Proskuryakova told them about the Centre’s studies which allow them to calculate the number of true number of working NPOs and characterize such important parts of civil society such as informal associations and unions of socially active citizens.
Plenary sessions and sections of the Assembly included discussion of specific practical solutions for strengthening civil society – at open forums as well as special events in three areas: ‘Reaching the Millennium Development Goals’, ‘Finding ways out of the economic crisis’, ‘Reconciling economic development, climate justice and the fight against poverty’.
On the eve of this ‘grown-up’ Assembly, on August 18th-20th, as in previous years, the CIVICUS Youth Assembly took place, and upon the closure of all sessions a meeting of all World Alliance member organizations was held, where Secretary General Ingrid Srinath unveiled the performance report for the last two years. According to her, CIVICUS is an actively developing international organization whose research projects are in demand by the ‘third sector’, governments of many countries and such large international organizations as the World Bank, UN, Greenpeace and Amnesty International.
Nikolay Vukolov, HSE News Service