Civil society, participation and political legitimacy

The third work package of the CORE project examines the roles of civil society and an active citizen in collaborative planning and decision-making processes. The aim is to develop and promote practices to create and renew the conditions for a constructive meeting of different citizens and other actors in decision-making situations.

We examine civic activity both on the third sector (associations) and outside of it, on the more informal fourth sector. Particular attention is given to vulnerable groups and citizens’ grassroots initiatives.

Information on the roles of citizens is needed in a situation in which the relationship of citizens and the political system is no longer built primarily through associations and representative democracy, as before. Associations have traditionally been important in 1) managing the political system, 2) maintaining the legitimacy of the system, 3) safeguarding the stability and predictability of democracy, and 4) providing services.

Since the 1990s, more and more hobby-type associations and new “tribes” have increasingly replaced the political and think-tank associations. With digitalisation, civic activity has shifted more and more to the fourth sector, to fast-running self-organising networks operating through social media. Also, citizens as “free” and “self-responsible” individuals, have risen as actors alongside the traditional associations.

Ensuring the legitimacy of democracy and the political system has become more difficult when the political and ideological bonds of people are more complex, shorter and more volatile than before. Differences in citizens’ activity and influencing have increased. More and more people have become alienated from the political decision-making but at the same time, the most active people are able to utilize digital tools to serve decision-making and society more widely.

In this research, the first step is to provide information about the forms of participation and activities which, based on the experience so far, make it possible to design and make decisions for the meaningful, rewarding inclusion of citizens, and various groups and communities in environmental governance.

In the second phase, action research will be carried out with civil society actors in selected cases. We pay specific attention in ensuring that experiments that take place allow meaningful participation of various civil society actors.

In the third phase, recommendations are made to strengthen active citizenship and confidence among demographic groups and organizations from the perspective of democracy and political legitimacy. From this point of view, information about the most promising methods of co-operation will be compiled into practical publications and scientific articles.

The work package is led by prof. Tapio Litmanen at the University of Jyväskylä.