Rural civil society


This assigment involved:

  • Scanning the vast international literature on civil society, social movements and the State.
  • Obtaining and synthesising data on South African rural civil society
  • Developing a typology of rural civil society organisations
  • Surveying 100 purposively selected rural CSOs
  • Researching six short case studies
  • Identifying key trends and knowledge gaps

Literature review
There is a vast international literature on civil society, social movements and the State, of which much originates in the North. There is also a significant body of literature in Spanish and Portuguese from Latin America which remains inaccessible to English speakers. We explore a range of definitions and examines the changing focus on civil society which takes place in the era following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 which propelled the rapid globalisation of capital and markets and had implications for the negotiated transition in South Africa.

The scan examines the changing role and function of civil society in South Africa pre and post 1994 and its changing relations with the State through successive presidencies.  We review available data on rural civil society organisations and scan associated interpretive studies.

Given that that the rural civil society scan is motivated by the intent to find ways to link research to policy engagement from ‘below’ we have also scanned the literature on changing scholarship and research paradigms and research to action frameworks.

Obtaining and synthesising data on civil society
In order to try and establish ‘who is out there’ we have sought data from a variety of different sources which we have combined within a single database. However it was clear from the outset that data capture and subsequent data management on almost all existing databases has been exceptionally poor. It seems that most organisations, whether State or non profit lack the capacity to keep data which they collect current. This means that while we have aggregated a number of different data sets the proportion of bad data is very high in all of the databases we have been able to access.

Developing a typology of civil society organisations
We have developed an indicative typology of civil society organisations below in which organisations are located into one of four quadrants. Data base entries tend to feature organisations which fall into the first two quadrants which capture organisations which are formally constituted in some way – whether as an NPO, a co-operative or other legal entity. There are a host of rural organisations which are less formal and remain largely invisible to a rapid and predominantly desk based scan of this nature.

Undertaking a survey of a purposively selected sample of CSOs
We designed a short survey instrument which was emailed and administered telephonically. This verified contact information and posed 26 questions together with a selection of multiple choice answers. The purpose of the survey was to:

Briefly profile the respondent organisations and locate them within the civil society typology
Identify the nature of CSO interactions with the State and relations with other organisations in the process

  • Identify the different rural subsectors in which the organisations polled were working
    Examine their sources of funding
  • Examine internet access
  • Compare levels of information literacy
  • Identify particular types of information needs of the organisations profiled  which would enable them to engage more effectively with the State at different levels
  • Identify the most appropriate delivery options to enable rural CSOs to access the information that they need

Rural CSO case studies
Six short case studies were prepared which examine organisations in different rural and institutional settings. These include:

  • Three cases where an NGO has a relationship with a rural network or aspirant social movement:
    The Food Sovereignty Campaign and its relationship with SPP
    The Rural Network and its relationship with the Church Land Programme
    Rural savings groups and their association with SaveAct
  • Two cases where government development programmes result in new organisations or institutional structures:
    The Muyexe pilot CRDP site and the establishment of a Council of Stakeholders
    The Simondium Rural Development Forum in the Cape Winelands which was registered as an NPO through an initiative supported by the District Municipality
    The case of USAAA an organisation of emerging farmers established against a backdrop of political contestation over access to resources.

The case studies help us to critically examine the typology and the fit between the conceptual framework and complex and messy realities.

Identification of key knowledge gaps and emerging trends
In the final section of the report we combine our analysis from the different sections to identify key gaps in our knowledge of rural civil society and summarise trends which emerge from the literature and the findings of the mini survey.  


Posted: 3/29/2012 (7:06:42 AM)

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