Democratic governance through intermediary bodies: A case study of third sector interfaces in Scotland - Dr Jane Cullingworth, University of Glasgow

Event Date: 1 March 2023

Speaker: Dr Jane Cullingworth, University of Glasgow

Time: 1.30-14.15pm

Location: Stenhouse Wing, SW1.06 or Zoom (email for details)

Over the past 20-30 years it has become commonplace for third sector organisations to work in close partnership with government and statutory bodies in collective planning and decision making. Democratic governance, involving citizens and civil society organisations in decision making with the state, complements traditional forms of governance. It is widely held that society’s ‘wicked problems’, like poverty, can be better addressed when all relevant stakeholders work together (Cornwall, 2004; Speer, 2012).

This presentation shares the findings of my PhD research, Democratic governance through intermediary bodies: a case study of third sector interfaces in Scotland, which explored the relationship between the third sector and the state. Intermediary bodies (such as third sector interfaces across Scotland’s 32 local authorities) occupy a difficult space, requiring them to expertly navigate relationships between the third sector and the state. My PhD research considered if there was an impact on the independence of the intermediary body and what the involvement meant for its relationships with the third sector.

My findings suggested that its independence was compromised by its close involvement with state actors and, further, that its legitimacy with the broader third sector was undermined. This highlighted a fundamental challenge: how do civil society actors participate in democratic governance while maintaining both autonomy from the state and legitimacy with civil society? Recommendations from the research are that (1) intermediary bodies actively assert their independence, maintain ongoing engagement with constituents and define their role as advocating for the sector rather than mediating between the sector and the state; and (2) the state design participative structures collaboratively with civil society and other state actors and that the state supports organic third sector approaches rather than intervening in civil society infrastructure.

Published: 21 February 2023

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