Civil society in policy-making

Civil society is ever more turning into an important actor within the democratic systems of governance throughout the world. Defined as “the area outside of family, state and market, created through individual and collective actions, organizations and institutions to advance common interests”, civil society is destined to cooperate with all the segments of an organized society, by receiving and forwarding inputs to various actors and processes. From an impact-focused viewpoint, civil society in a democratic country finds itself in a complex relation with its environment (organized society: “Polity” in Eng.), where actors and processes have a double function – as a target of desired impact by the civil society and also at the same time an influencing factor to the structure of actions and the form of civil society.

As with a lot of other processes, the civil society in political processes constitutes an important element of the democratic process. Together with political parties and lobby groups, it provides the citizens with an alternative way of channeling different points of view and securing various interests in the decision-making processes. In theory, there are six different steps in the political process of decision-making: setting out an agenda, policy drafting, decision-making, supervision and reformulating the policies. Each step provides opportunity for interaction between public authorities and civil society organizations.

The inclusion of civil society organizations through the various steps of the decision-making process depends on the intensity of the participation. There are four different levels of participation, starting from the one with the lowest level of participation and all the way to the level with higher participation: information, consultation, dialogue and partnership. These can be applied during each step of the decision-making process; however, frequently one of these forms is more relevant to specific parts of the process.