At first appreciating the diversion in focus from civil society to the enabling environment, after reading the report I cannot help to feel disappointed. First it did not manage to take all relevant environmental dimensions into account. Second, it seems the index is yet another attempt to arrive at a country list leading to ranking exercises. It misses out on impacting the local discourse in countries of analysis due to its lack of rigour and data. To support these conclusions I naturally need to provide the evidence, in this case contained in the report itself as well as in the external environment. Lets look at it in detail, hitch-hiking on the Dutch policy intents.
Dutch civil society policy
Recently the Dutch minister of Aid, Trade and Investment launched a new policy document that pinpoints to the counterveiling power role civil society has maintaining the space between people, the market and the state. I was quite content to see this conceptualisation of civil society as a space appearing in the discourse. It had already been introduced by Mrs. Ploumen's predecessor Mr. Ben Knapen in his 'Non-Paper' on civil society engagement and Mrs. Ploumen has not failed to build on it. However, in the process she cut a large portion of financing for service delivery by civil society in contexts that have a failing or absent state, situations that are also not inviting for private sector actors to take their role in basic service delivery.
Back in the nineties the concept of space was also embraced by CIVICUS and resulted in the birth of the earlier mentioned Civil Society Index, funded primarily by UNDP. Though the word index suggests a mathematical and measurable parameter, the number of variables involved and the way they got measured involved a self-reflective highly participatory and intrinsically subjective process contained in civil society itself. As a consequence the original rigour of the concept was lost in the implementation which involved lengthy and cumbersome country processes. Though the resulting country reports were worth reading, cross country comparison remained a challenge.
State and market
With the Enabling Environment Index an attempt was made to bring the contextual factors back on stage, which got burried in the self-reflection process by civil society. Table 1 presents the dimensions and sub-dimensions that basically are the variables establishing the index. The main dimensions make a promising link to the economic, cultural and governance realities in the country of analysis. However, the sub-dimensions unfortunately fail to refer to enabling environment for entrepreneurs, who make use of the same space. Issues like fair competition, seperation of public and private domains, empoyers vs employee dynamics etc., labour conditions, etc. Likewise even the governance sub-dimensions miss out on important variable for good governance and are inclined towards a focus on bad-governance and its impact on people.
Though from an activist point of view the chosen dimensions may make sense, the creation of civil society space in a country will also depend on the deliverables of civil society for market and state parties, as the state is increasingly involved in 'running' the economy, it sometimes forgets to take care of other aspects of the social contract. This has lead to a profit focus even in governing circles. If there is nothing to 'gain' in economic terms, invest is lacking. In situations where public and private sector parties completely overlap it is no surprise that 'civil society' organisations are not listened to as the space between market and state and therefore civil society virtually does not exist. Civic participation in civil society in such situations will mobilise the people to claim what is rightfully theirs and results in revolution as we have seen in many occasssions. It poses a threat to vested interests and therefore will be discouraged or 'stifled' in the words of activists. Only when civil society as a concept starts delivering for entrepreneurs and for governance state and market may be triggered to engage.
I had hoped the enabling environment index had more consideration for the deliverables of what is also called the social economy, contributing to sustainable entrepreneurship and fair governance. See also other pages on this website emphasizing the need to perceive civil society as a space that also delivers for the state and the market without preferring one party over the other. As also discussed with UNDP back in 2010, there is a lot of mileage to gain for civil society. The big absentee, also in the theory of change for many activist groups, are the people. Not the well-educated minorities that are well connected to their international peers. But the poorly educated mass that will only listen to those who provide air to breath, water to drink, land to sustain. Fundamentalist groups have better understood the enormous power potential of mass mobilization by simply providing basic services at grass roots level. However, this won't bring the type of transition that is required nor will it bring good practice with balancing people, profit and power at the local level.
Solutions may be found in the current drive for decentralisation, which originates from the states inability to cater for the needs of its citizens. In situations where the total conflation of public and private interests at national level has not percolated down to the district level yet, good experiences with sound participatory processes may bring the desired change towards public participation, that will help people to regain control over public goods and private productive assets en reinvent reciprocity in a way that fits empowered twenty-first century people. Who knows we may be heading for an inclusion index with public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit, formal and informal dimensions.