The Civil Society and Governance Programme was a major research project funded by the Ford Foundation and based at IDS.
The three-year research programme, established in April 1998, examined the interplay between civil society and governments in 22 different countries, spanning six international regions.
The idea of 'civil society' has achieved prominence in political and developmental discourse over the past two decades, particularly in connection with successive waves of democratisation, beginning in Latin America and Eastern Europe, and spreading across the developing world. In normative terms, civil society has been widely seen as an increasingly crucial agent for limiting authoritarian government, strengthening popular empowerment, reducing the socially atomising and unsettling effects of market forces, enforcing political accountability, and improving the quality and inclusiveness of governance. Reconsideration of the limits of state action has also led to an increased awareness of the potential role of civic organisations in the provision of public goods and social services, either separately or in some kind of 'synergistic' relationship with state institutions.
Therefore the main aims of this research programme were:
- To gain a clearer analytical and practical understanding of the character and functions of civil society, both in general and in the light of systemic and other variations between and within regions.
- While recognising that civil organisations can play a number of potentially positive roles, to concentrate on those activities which can enhance (or detract from) the quality of political life and governance in different societies.
- To develop practical measures which can strengthen civil society and enhance its impact as an agent for improving political life and governance -- with particular emphasis on seeking ways to improve government policies toward poor, excluded and vulnerable groups, and to strengthen their access to and influence on the policy process.