Civil Society, in general and organisations, in particular have played, and continue to play a role in the policy process. At different times, and due to diverse demands, the civil society has either contributed in policy formulation and implementation, or its evaluation. Of course, there are a number of civil society organisations (CSO) which do not directly get involved in the policy process but either aid in creating a demand for a policy through raising awareness around the issue, or prefer to show a mirror to the government about the challenges in the current policy context.
While the civil society and state partnership are much more complex than stated above, we can begin to make sense of the layers by first identifying the expectations of the state, from CSOs. While various agencies and departments of the state and central government of India acknowledge that the state in general neither has the capacity, nor manpower to fulfil all the roles desired of it, it looks for partners or ‘extra-hands’ to assist in the policy process.
One of the main expectations of the state, from the CSOs, while partnering with them is that the CSOs should be ‘problem-solvers’ or ‘innovators’. This brings out two essential criteria that the CSOs should fulfil: a) they should have technical expertise in the said domain, so that they could solve problems in the area, and b) they should be innovative in their approach, while providing solutions. Clearly, this underlines the fact that CSOs should have ample experience in the said area, to bring out innovative and technically sound solutions. An appropriate example here could be of the Majdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) from Rajasthan, and their 40-day long dharna against the transparency of local expenditure records in 1996 which resulted in prolonged advocacy for information to be available in the public domain. This ultimately resulted in the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The second expectation of the state is that the CSOs could be ‘implementing agencies’ for various policies of the state. Again, this implies having field experience, along with being professional and efficient in rendering the services. CSOs in recent times, partner with the state in order to fulfil this expectation, and also provide a ‘last-mile connectivity’ solution for the policies. The Akshaya Patra Foundation (TAPF) from Karnataka, provided testimony to the Supreme Court of India in 2001 to mandate the mid-day meal scheme, and also stepped-up as the implementing arm of the Government of Karnataka for the said scheme in the state. TAPF partnered with hundreds of non governmental organisations across the state, to make and transport/ provide mid-day meals to all children of government schools in the state.
A third kind of expectation is the most common one, where the state looks for ‘extra-hands’ to fulfil its responsibilities. It is expected that the CSOs performing this role, would be efficient in managing resources, with minimum or no financial input from the government, and have a reputation for having done ‘good work’ in the field area, so that the citizen rapport building can be smooth. A few examples here could be of local/ grassroot organisations taking up vaccination drives, blood donation camps, or ‘safe-driving’ awareness campaigns to boost government programmes.The scope of partnership would be somewhat different for CSOs assisting government agencies to prepare technical reports such as climate hazard risk and vulnerability report, or district disaster management plans, etc.
The common thread which binds all the expectations from the CSOs, is that they should have a shared philosophy of governance, as the state, and work in tandem with the state. In short, the partners should be trustworthy to handle the work of and for the government. However, while these expectations and the criterion look quite straight forward, the complexity arises when the CSOs are not silent compliers, but also demand certain reciprocities or exchanges from the government. The CSOs showcase their credibility through the ground-level work and understanding of the field, but also navigate the state expectations while trying to insert the needs and demands of their constituencies/ beneficiaries. This transaction or exchange between the state and CSOs is at the core of the partnership formation.
If we look at the larger picture, the aim of governance is to ensure efficient and effective delivery of goods and services, the government strives for that through different means. Given the size of civil society in India, there is a lot of scope for their involvement in governance and policy processes. The civil society can not only ensure last mile connectivity, but can also assist the government in ideating innovative solutions to overcome governance and implementation roadblocks.
 I take the context of civil society organisations here, while talking about civil society, since the organisations are more systematic to study. This operational definition does not mean to subsume the characteristics and types of civil society, into only organisations.
Reetika is a Senior Officer, Research at CPPR. She has a Ph.D in Political Science from Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, and was Assistant Professor at JAIN (Deemed-to-be) University, Bangalore, for more than 8 years, before joining the organisation. She has also worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Wageningen University & Research, The Netherlands and IIT- Delhi in 2018-19, on a project on Civil Society Advocacy with her research focusing on State-Civil Society Relations in Disaster Management in India. She is a part of the Lokniti Network in Delhi, and has been a part of various elections and democracy related studies, along with being a resource person for Lokniti’s Annual Summer School on Quantitative Data Analysis for more than a decade. Dr. Syal has presented papers at many international and national conferences, and has also published in journals and edited books. She was the International Consultant for Nepal Governance Survey, a study by the Nepal Planning Commission in 2017.