» Archive for: September, 2014


Civic innovation is by definition not initiated or developed by state actors but emerges in civil society, through pre-existing or emerging civic entities and going beyond a single charismatic individual. But the state may be a facilitator of civic innovation. For example because it steps back from certain policy areas, reducing programs, public sector workers, and budgets. Or because the state needs civil society in order to implement, shape, or co-develop programs. Hence, civic innovation may be driven by government failure. Here we give two examples of such state-facilitation of civic innovation. The first is from the Netherlands, where decentralization, budget cuts, and integration of welfare policy areas have created the space and urge for civic initiatives in the area of social participation, home care, and youth support.  The Dutch government advisory council RMO advises the government on how to trust civil society with this transition, how to step back. This blog shares some insights from a recent report that was written by the RMO with the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG): ‘Kantelkracht’ (‘Turning power’).

In the city of Culemborg, citizens have set-up a platform for good ideas for the city; senior citizens of Oisterwijk have set-up a knowledge network of retirees who offer their expertise for civic initiatives; in Albrandswaard, a knowledge-sharing platform is set-up on entrepreneurship, engagement and capacity building for its inhabitants; and in Kinderdijk, the village well-known for its windmills, the municipality has mapped 40 civic initiatives that help solve social problems. In order to help citizens to find the right initiative for them, the municipality has hired a community manager, as a broker between the civic initiatives on the one hand and citizens seeking help on the other hand. In Westland, the platform ‘help-in-your-neighborhood’ offers free home care services in the communities of this municipality. Several municipalities experiment with civic ownership, by transferring ownership of public swimming pools, parks, and community buildings to civic groups, with a small maintenance budget. There is an initiative in Rotterdam ‘Buurt bestuurt’ (‘neighborhood governs’) with its own App, to let the local community decide on the priority tasks of the community police officer … I just checked the website of my own neighborhood in Rotterdam and see tweets coming in from local police officers informing me that a bike-thief has been caught blood-handed and that free drinks are available tonight for the people living in the Essenburg neighborhood … but what about discrimination and domestic violence and other much more fundamental issues?

The second example is from Ghana, in the Kpobiman Community in the Ga West Municipality. Through the Department of Community Development, the Kpobiman Women Group,  comprising of 10 women  received training in 1999,  in skills such as  bread making , dyeing  of clothes  in different designs, and Kenkey  production  (a staple food in Ghana). Despite the poor monitoring and non-follow-up by the officials of the Government of Ghana, the group, through their own initiative, has expanded and attracted more women, increasing its membership from 10 to 40 and also single handily facilitated the training of ten different groups in poorer neighbouring villages. This group has led to opening up Kpobiman Community, which hitherto was quite isolated with low levels of economic activity. Currently the group through the sales and profit they made from their income generating activities has moved beyond their initial capacity and lobbied NGO’s such as Action Aid http://http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/young_women_-_ghana2.pdf to support them. The group has built its own offices and guesthouses for trainees and guest who visit the community. In addition a bakery has been built and catering services and decoration of venues for parties and funeral celebrations have been added. Other activities engaged in to expand and influence civic activities is through philanthropic activities with donations made to several organizations such as The Ghana Prisons Service, various hospitals in need and many others.  Whiles the intention is philanthropic, the Group uses these opportunities to expand its network while at the same time promoting civic empowerment through training and educational outreach on rights and responsibilities of individuals within society.

The women facilitated and lobbied to get a borehole drilled in Kpobiman community. In addition these women have facilitated the construction of their homes and supported their husbands and children in their businesses and education respectively, and ultimately have helped to address the cycle of poverty. In addition the Secretary of the Kpobiman Women’s group, as a result of this empowerment contested for and won the local election and was further appointed as a Government of Ghana appointee. From the taking over of the government initiative by the community, with an initial training of 10 women, civic waves of empowerment have been blown and affected a large number of women and their households. Kpobiman can claim economic empowerment as a result of these initiatives of the women, but it requires in-depth study to find out how broad and sustainable the impact is.

In conclusion, civic innovation can take the space left behind by retreating or failing governments, in North and South, setting the agenda for local development. The analysis of when and how such initiatives are transformative is a major objective of CIRI.


International Institute of Social Studies

CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

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