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CENTRE FOR CIVIL SOCIETY AND GOVERNANCE

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					CENTRE FOR CIVIL SOCIETY AND GOVERNANCE

UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG

THE CENTRE The Centre for Civil Society and Governance was established by the University of Hong Kong in December 2002 with the aim of enhancing our knowledge of the nature, constituents, and roles of civil society and, in particular, the contribution that civil society can make towards good governance. The Centre seeks to foster the development of a vibrant civil society in Hong Kong, China and other parts of the world through research, advocacy and dissemination. The specific objectives of the Centre are: • • To gain a clear understanding of the character and functions of civil society. To study the functioning and consequences of various types of civil society organizations, especially those which can enhance governance in society. • To develop practical measures which can strengthen civil society and enhance its impact as an agent for improving governance in such areas as public policymaking, accountability, transparency and information accessibility, and development of informed public opinion. • To foster dialogue and closer partnership among the University, the Government and civil society organizations. What is Civil Society? Civil society has been described as a social value and a set of social institutions. As a value, civil society may be seen as a reflection of the views and needs of the community

The only way by which any one divests himself of his natural liberty and puts on the bonds of civil society is by agreeing with other men to join and unite in a community. John Locke Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690) which may be expressed independently of the state. As a set of social institutions, civil society refers to the social organizations and groups which are distinct from, yet interact with, the government, the market and the family. These social organizations and groups,

commonly called civil society organizations, typically consist of work associations such as trade unions, employers’ federations, and professional associations, NGOs (nongovernmental organizations which bring people together in a common cause), CBOs (community-based organizations set up at the grassroots level to pursue member-based objectives), and religious communities. Apart from being a watchdog of government and business, a vibrant civil society is an important social partner in governance. At its best, it creates resources to solve social problems and directs social development, facilitates public policymaking and implementation, and promotes mutual trust among government, business and citizens. Partnerships with Government The importance of partnerships between civil society organizations and governments in the interests of good governance is well recognized internationally. The World Bank, for

The United Nations once dealt only in Governments. By now we know that peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without partnerships involving Governments, international organizations, the business community and civil society. In to-day’s world we depend on each other. Kofi Annan UN Secretary-General example, emphasises the important role that nongovernmental organizations play in meeting the challenges of development and welcomes the opportunity to work with civil society. The European Commission of the European Union, too, links social and economic development with the development of civil society and NGOs. International agencies have also recognized the link between their efforts to promote good governance and the positive role that civil society may play to help achieve that aim. Good governance is variously defined but it often contains both a normative and a prescriptive element. Governance involves the way in which power is exercised but it also encompasses the notion that power should be exercised so that it underscores the government’s commitment to certain values: accountability,

transparency, openness, the rule of law and participation. Civil society is important in this

A strong civil society plays a critical role in advancing good governance. Asian Development Bank process because it provides both a check on governments which would seek to act in ways which contravene those values and because active citizen participation in the affairs of the state has traditionally been seen as an indicator of a healthy polity. Civil Society in Hong Kong Over the past two decades, Hong Kong has developed an increasingly important and vibrant civil society. In the 2000 policy address, the Chief Executive acknowledged this importance and observed that the ‘third sector’, which is defined as organizations which are neither profit-oriented businesses or government agencies ‘can often find solutions to social problems that appear intractable to both the market and Government’. In the following year, the Government announced the establishment of a $300 million Community Investment and Inclusion Fund, designed to encourage the building up of social capital, community participation and the development of the third sector. These initiatives have been welcomed by peak organizations, such as the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, the Legislative Council and many voluntary organizations. These structural initiatives suggest that there may be difficulties in the relationships of civil organizations with the market and with government; that their full potential is yet to fully realised and that there may be duplication of function and contradiction of purpose. Anna Wu, the Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission, was once asked why there were so many NGOs in Hong Kong. She replied that, perhaps among other factors, it had to do with a permissive rather than prescriptive legal system, with the mobilization of social forces that was ‘undirected, widely participatory and bottom up’ and with government policies in which a large space is carved out for the community. These features of the Hong Kong system have made for large numbers of civil organizations - some highly visible, others not – who can, under some circumstances play highly positive roles in the achievement of social policy objectives but who may also wish to see their own values more fully represented in policy and who can act as a serious obstacle when policies come into conflict with their own aims.

THE RESEARCH AGENDA The centre has identified four critical research areas which it believes are consistent with its objectives and which will help to enhance our understanding of civil society and its importance in establishing good governance. The research areas are: • Civil Society and Public Governance in Hong Kong. The research to be undertaken in this area has a broad remit and will both inform, and benefit from, research conducted in the other critical fields listed below. Specifically, research projects will examine the role of civil society in public governance, in such areas as: NGO’s representation on advisory boards, statutory bodies, and the Legislative Council; linkages among NGOs and citizens; and the possible role and nature of civic representation in the Legislative Council. • Charitable and Non-Profit Activities. There are over 3400 registered charities in Hong Kong. They operate in many different contexts –legal, political and social which are not fully understood and which will be the subject of future research. The aim of the research is to help develop an enabling environment for charitable and non-profit activities, covering both the legal dimension as well as models of self-regulation for civic and associative activities. • Corporate social responsibility. To promote awareness of corporate social responsibility among university students and business firms and conduct case studies of good practices in Hong Kong. • Indigenous philanthropy and community foundation. To promote indigenous philanthropy and examine the feasibility of establishing a community foundation in Hong Kong. Apart from these programmes, there are other longer-term activities currently under discussion, including: non-profit management training and education; deliberative opinion polling on alternatives for future constitutional development in Hong Kong; comparative study of civil societies in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong; and a multi-disciplinary theoretical study to examine the constitutive values, legal status and institutional features of non-profit organizations and sectors.

CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECTS The following research projects are currently in train: • Choosing Institutions for State-Society Synergy in Hong Kong, Dr Danny W.F. Lam (Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong); Types of Non-Government Organisations in Hong Kong: Making Sense of Legal Form and Power? (Dr. Ian Thynne, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong); Studying the Legal Framework of Philanthropy in Hong Kong, Ms Lusina Ho (Department of Law, University of Hong Kong); NGOs and Global Governance: The Role of Hong Kong (Dr James Tang and Dr Lucy Cummings, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong); Social Organizations and Civic Engagement: A Typological Study of Organizational Altruism and Collaboration (Dr Joseph C.W. Chan, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong and Dr. Elaine Y. M. Chan, Department of Public and Social Administration, City University of Hong Kong); Regulating and Auditing Non-Profit Organizations in China (Dr K.M. Chan, Department of Sociology, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Dr Joseph C. W. Chan, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong and Mr Terence Yuen, PhD student); Statutory Bodies in Hong Kong and Singapore: Autonomy and Integration (Dr Ian Thynne, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong and Professor Ian Scott, University of Hong Kong/Murdoch University); State-Society Synergies in Haidian District, Beijing (Professor John Burns, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong); Asian Irrigation in Transition: A Comparative Study of the Change of Local Irrigation Institutions in Nepal, Thailand and Taiwan (Dr. Danny Lam, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong).

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In addition to these specific research projects, the Centre has an interest in contributing to both the theoretical and empirical debate in two emerging field of interest to social scientists: social auditing and deliberative opinion polls. The concept of social auditing refers to the idea that the performance of social and political institutions should be documented and assessed and the resulting reports made accessible to the wider public. Civil society theorists believe that generally these institutions are best audited by independent civil groups. Although these groups possess no legal power, they have credibility and the trust of the public. In the case of Hong Kong, we propose to develop standards and mechanisms to audit the

following institutions or groups or some aspects of their work: charity groups; companies and their corporate social responsibility; legislators and their legislative performance and media ethics. Deliberative opinion polls are a method of assessing public opinion which emphasizes information sharing and public deliberation among respondents before they are asked to take a stand on an issue. Individuals gather together for two days for the purpose of the poll. During this period, they are provided with both supporting and opposing views delivered by experts on a controversial public policy issue such as health care reform, taxation or democratization. Their views are assessed and analysed both before and after the two-day period.

Deliberative democracy takes inspiration from a picture of the deliberative process as a search for the ideal of a rationally motivated consensus, modelled on the mode of rational inquiry in which only the reasons that are persuasive to all generate political acceptance. John Uhr We propose to run territory-wide deliberative polls, hopefully but not necessarily with government’s endorsement, on controversial public policy issues concerning the community. One of the important features of deliberative polls is the neutrality and impartiality of the deliberative procedures, the briefing materials that participants read, and the selection of experts and interested parties. Because of its academic and independent nature, a university centre is best suited to conduct deliberative polls. Deliberative polls were invented and trademarked by Professor James Fishkin of the University of Texas (Austin) and Director of the Center for Deliberative Polling. The Center has helped conducted at least 18 large-scale deliberative polls in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Denmark. The Centre for Civil Society and Governance has received Professor Fishkin’s endorsement to run, in collaboration with his center, deliberative polls in Hong Kong.

April 2003 Centre for Civil Society and Governance, HKU


				
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