ESRC Seminar 2 – CSO’s and Independence discussion notes.

The final session of the seminar entailed two discussions surrounding Independence and Democracy. Below are some notes taken from the Independence groups discussion.

Number of statements highlighting society is bigger than the state and CSO’s are a part of that bigger society.

– They are founded on the notion of independence and the idea we can collectively influence thigs – own lives, local societies and services, global environment, national health and other significant issues.

– Independence is one reason why CSO’s are expected to provide better quality services, improve democracy and encourage local empowerment.

– Concerns however that resistance, advocacy and voice are being eroded by current climate of reduced funding, primacy of contracting mechanisms, pressures not to be campaign ,not just in UK but across Europe.

– Linked to this intensified neo-liberal approach are tensions between professionalization, the need to be business-like and display the characteristics of the ideal type – professional, enterprising entity – and connection to users and independent voice.

– Questions being raised around whether CSOs are shying away from advocating their own distinctiveness and need for new narrative.

– The state has power to impose changes to material resources within the welfare domain (Regulatory fiscal environment), they cannot necessarily easily manipulate symbolic resources (Cultural feature/identity of CSO’s)

– There is plenty of resistance to the coalitions and new conservative attempts to treat (In policy, funding and cultural terms) CSO’s in line with private/corporate organisations.

– A loss of independence, couple by growth of apolitical CSOs would likely put society at risk, especially those groups with least power.

– Returing back to the opening statement. Society is bigger than the state, I wonder how we shape a system in which independent CSO’s can help to reshape and improve society? Hope, discussions have started at a micro level today. We need to move towards understanding, as a relative term (Rather than something with universal meaning and applicability). Does/should independence mean the same thing for every CSO? The same wit professionalization.

– The starting point is within CSOs themselves – it is for them to decide a ‘mission appropriate’ approach to the issue of independence.

– If you don’t have minimal informal structures, much more powerful informal hierarchies take over. Seems to me both a pragmatic and ideologically driven approach balancing the need for difficulties of obtaining funding and reaming true to the values and purpose of their mission. X

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