Democratic Renewal in Civil Society Seminar Series

Civil Society has long been celebrated as an important arena for creating a more democratic and vibrant society. In particular, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are often praised as being more responsible and in-touch than political parties and central government, in their ability to articulate the needs of local communities. As a result, CSOs are increasingly asked to deliver services and solve community problems. Yet concern is growing that this move is harming the democratic heritage of CSOs and they are now viewed as the contractual arm of the state, providing services rather than advocacy.

This seminar series asked if CSOs could be reimagined to bring about democratic renewal. Firstly, in terms of their role in society and secondly, if their internal organisational processes can be more democratic and participatory.


    • The seminar programme was open to practitioners, policy makers, activists, and academics who are interested in, participate or research in Civil Society, particularly around democracy and participatory forms of organising.
    • The seminars had a series of speakers, who will acted as provocateurs rather than lecturers and as such the seminars were highly interactive and participatory.
    • Each seminar drew on research and experience of academics and practitioners to develop an inter-disciplinary network to explore and debate these ideas. It was also particularly welcoming to PhD and early career researchers.

Click on each seminar to find out more

Seminar 1 – Meanings: of democracy and civil society

Seminar 2 –Democracy and Civil Society: Threats and Possibilities

Seminar 3 – Practice: Democratising CSOs: Governance and accountability in civil society and beyond

Seminar 4 – Practice: Democratic decision making in CSOs

Seminar 5 – Promises: Learning from current experiments in democratic organizing

Seminar 6 – Promises: what is the future for a more democratic civil society?

The Democratic Renewal In Civil Society seminar series explored these issues and asked: what are the features that promote and undermine the role civil society organisations (CSOs) play within democratic civic renewal?

With speakers from leading CSOs such as Greenpeace, UNESCO and Co-operatives UK, inter-disciplinary academics including from geography, business, economics, sociology, peace studies, philosophy and political theory and policymakers the seminar series investigated these issues from multiple perspectives. It also built upon existing examples from the experiments that are occurring throughout the UK and Europe where new forms of CSOs are currently being developed.

The six seminars examined the meaning, conditions, possibilities and promises of democracy within civil society. By bringing together an inter-disciplinary network of academics, policymakers and practitioners, the seminar series developed a long-term shared interest in civil society and democracy.


The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s leading research and training agency addressing economic and social concerns.

For more information, please contact daniel.king@ntu.ac.uk