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The Impacts of Civil Society on Policy Analysis

The Impacts of Civil Society on Policy Analysis
Ozeh, Cornelius 

Analysis of policy options is imperative to making informed policy decisions. It involves relevant stakeholders and actors which participate in the process of clarifying a messy policy challenge, analyzing relevant information – including information on the specific context of the problem, clarifying, playing out the implications of and weighing options for action, making recommendations, and, in some cases, developing a strategic plan for implementation. These stakeholders and actors have their respective three-tiered belief systems: “deep core, policy core and secondary aspects,” (Sabatier 1988).  These three tiers of belief suggest how the policy analysis actors and stakeholders impact on policy analysis itself, so that “policy designs are interpreted as translations of (policy actors’) beliefs (ibid.).”

The civil society as a towering actor of policy analysis has great impacts on policy analysis. Its ubiquitous presence in public policy analyses is unmistakable; and also a strong justification to the magnitude of impacts it wields on policy analysis.
This paper discusses the impacts of the civil society on policy analysis. It begins with the conceptual clarifications of the concepts, Civil Society and Policy Analysis.  This is aimed at clearing the concepts of undue ambiguities in order to achieve greater understanding of the paper. The main body contains the impacts of the civil society on policy analysis; both the negative and positive forms of the impacts were discussed. The conclusions presented the entire discussions in a brief summary.

Civil Society
This is referred to as the "third sector" of society, distinct from government and business ( Civil society as a sector is distinct from government and business, and is normally concerned with giving voice and promoting public participation (UNDP 2007). The Centre for Civil Society at London School of Economics ( adopted an initial working definition which defines it as: “the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values... Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trades unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups”. Civil society can have different levels of operation and influence, i.e. local, national, regional, or international.
In terms of civil society organizations, UNDP (2001) classifies them as: “non-state actors whose aims are neither to generate profits nor to seek governing power. CSOs unite people to advance shared goals and interests”.

Sometimes the term civil society is used in the more general sense of "the elements such as freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, etc, that make up a democratic society" (Collins English Dictionary). Alexis de Tocqueville, a French thinker of the 18th century linked civil society to democracy. He noted that "local associations of citizens" are important constituents of the political system which limit the absolutist state (de Tocqueville, A. 1969). In the 1970s, the intellectuals and political activists throughout Europe invoked the image of civil society to mobilize citizens against repressive states and reclaim a sphere of privacy in social life.
Cohen and Arato (1992) identified four components of the civil society: (1) Plurality: families, informal groups, and voluntary associations; (2)      Publicity: institutions of culture and communication; (3) Privacy: a domain of individual self-development and moral choice; and (4) Legality: structures of general laws and basic rights needed to demarcate plurality, privacy and publicity from the state and economy.
Policy Analysis
Policy analysis draws on concepts from a number of disciplines: economics, political science, sociology, public administration and history, and emerged as a sub discipline in the late 1960s, mainly in the United states. It is variously defined by different scholars, comes in many guises, and offers a confusing heterogeneity of different theories ranging from highly prescriptive to descriptive ( Heclo 1972).         Most policy analysis focuses on the policy process. Dror (1993), for example defines policy analysis as "approaches, methods, methodologies and techniques for improving discrete policy decisions."
Policy analysis is the evaluation of “public policy options ... for choice by policy makers” (Paul and et al. 1989). It is the process through which one identifies and evaluates "alternative policies or programmes that are intended to lessen or resolve social, economic or physical problems" (Patton and Sawicki quoted in O'Connor, (2011) defined policy analysis and distinguished it from programme evaluation saying that it is “the use of any evaluative research to improve or legitimize the practical implications of a policy-oriented programme. Programme evaluation is done when the policy is fixed or unchangeable. Policy analysis is done when there's still a chance that the policy can be revised.”
The basic steps of policy analysis are as follows: (a) Identification of policy objectives; (b) Selection of policy instruments; (c) Design policy implementation; (d) Policy monitoring and evaluation (Pica-Ciamarra 2009).
An impact is considered as an effect, a change, a result which can be attributed to some other action. Impact can be demonstrated through measurement processes, reflection and analysis which provide evidence of causal relationships. It can be intended or unintended, occurring immediately, in the short or long term.

Positive Impacts of the Civil Society on Policy Analysis

1.      Enhancing the Effects of Public Opinion
Civil society may attempt to influence the official policy-makers via public opinion in the process of policy analysis. Influential public opinions have determined policy choices over time. Institutions in the civil society are important in enhancing the effect of public opinion, since they can communicate more effectively with public officials on policy decisions than individual citizens. Robert Putnam says that associations in civil society provide forums where citizens get information and engage in deliberation over public issues, making their representation more reasoned and useful to government (Putnam 2000).
2.      Impact Through Provision of Advisory Services
Most civil society members and associations have expertise in the subject-matter of their concern. They shape the smaller questions into larger issues worthy of legislative consideration. They may provide the policy-makers with technical data for and against a specific issue, and information about the possible consequences of a policy proposal. Legislators find the expertise and data provided by these associations attractive because of their own limitations, as well as disinclination to accept the executive's recommendations. The executive personnel also look to these associations for information and opinions on policy issues (Sapru n.d). In this regard, the civil society with the power of information manipulates the policy choice out of the policy options in the process of policy analysis.
3.      Impact Through Role in Policy Implementation
In terms of public policy, the civil society has an important role in the dissemination of information and in the interpretation and implementation of public policy. The government has to rely on the groups and associations in the civil society for implementation of its policies. Many government programmes would remain unimplemented without the cooperation of vested interests. Such interests which can be found in the civil society can take control in the formulation of a policy as a price of its successful implementation. Protection of the human environment is an example in this context. Hence, every policy programme has to be planned with the consent of those groups who have to implement them.
Putnam argues that civil society associations create social capital. This enables government to get cooperation more easily, enhancing its effectiveness, and therefore its legitimacy (Putnam, op. cit.). In Putnam's views, patterns of trust developed within associations provide the basis for "generalized trust" throughout the society, building a basis for civic engagement, public spiritedness, and effective government. Hence, there is little that can be done unless there is cooperation and contribution from the civil society. Representatives of associations in the civil society may be invited either to sit on public Boards, councils or committees on account of their expertise, qualifications and proficiencies. If need be, the administration of public policy itself may actually be delegated to them (Sapru, op. cit).
4.      Impact through Access to Policy Making Process
Since the government dominates the legislative programme of legislature and usually secures the required majorities in the passage of a bill, the powerful association of the civil society can influence the required majorities in the passage of a Bill, the powerful association of the civil society can influence the executive and its department at the formulation stage before a Bill is drafted. The interest organisations articulate the interests and demands of society, seek support for these demands among other groups by advocacy and bargaining, and strive to transform these demands into public policies. The sectional interest organisations are more likely to be in a position to exert influence than the promotional organisations, and can exert pressure minister and public officials, before the government has decided to legislate. Similarly, a group may petition a minister or appear before an enquiry committee or commission in an attempt to involve the government in a policy action.
With access to information, civil society fosters democracy by limiting the state, providing space for protest groups, generating demands, monitoring excess, confronting power holders, and sustaining a balance of power between State and society (White 1994).
5.      Impact through Monitoring Policies
The civil society strengthens democratic institutions and attempt to ensure government accountability by monitoring public policies (Putnam, op. cit.). Some well organized civil society associations conduct research and activities in certain policy areas and implementation of development programmes with a view to sharing their results with the government and the public. These efforts in monitoring and sharing of results contribute to an informed policy choice.
These impacts above by the civil society are justifiable with the practical arguments below:
a.      Civil society is viewed as autonomous and independent from government and the state, which creates the space for representing the interests and ideas of ordinary people. This trait can promote a more participatory democratic process in planning and policy decisions. Evidence shows that civil society helps to give voice to excluded groups and foster grass-roots participation.
b.      The civil society can help to influence public decisions and guarantee that key issues are not solely decided on by government and official institutions. Civil society challenges are taken into account, either directly or through their representative organizations.

c.       Civil society groups and actors can provide an effective watchdog role and have the ability to pressure the government into action. This can be achieved through active participation in monitoring and policy evaluation, as well as involvement in other stages of the policy process.

d.      Organized civil society can go a long way in helping to hold governments accountable and to promote transparency and responsiveness (UNDP 2007).

Negative Impacts of the Civil Society on the Policy Analysis

Schmitter (1995) notes the following negative impacts which run counter to the positive attributes of the civil society:

·         It may build into the policy process a systematically biased distribution of influence....

·         It tends to impose an elaborate and obscure process of compromise upon political life, the outcome of which policies which no one wanted in the first place and with which no one can subsequently identify....

·         Most dangerously, it may prove to be not one but several civil societies__all occupying the same territory and polity, but organizing interests and passions into communities that are ethically, linguistically and culturally distinct __ even exclusive.

From the foregoing, it is deducible that the civil society in policy analysis can help to frame the research area and the general approach to be followed, contributing to improving the quality and legitimacy of the process. They can also feed civil society–generated findings from regular and close contact with the poorest and most vulnerable into the information gathering process and analysis. The civil society can deepen debate on a particular policy reform. Involving citizens, interest groups and a wide cross section of individuals; creating an open and participatory process. They present non-governmental perspectives to complement analytical and more technical inputs.


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