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Civil Society and Governance in Canada: Challenges, Opportunities and the Case for Cross-Sectoral Collaboration

Civil society is evolving. The rise of populism, a declining trust in governments, the changing role of (and trust in) media as a neutral, fact-based intermediary, and the impact of technologies and globalization on both organizational form and engagement (within and across sectors) have all influenced the traditional governance arrangements of civil society. Yet citizens tend to have more trust in civil society than they do in governments. Trends suggest that the role of civil society in Canada will continue to develop, bringing into question what the future challenges and opportunities are for this sector and for cross-sectoral collaboration in what is an increasingly more complex world.

Civil society is a reflection, and voice, of society’s wants, needs, priority issues and concerns. Civil society has the ability to both disrupt and bring together. Increasingly, its role includes the production and distribution of public services and goods that were traditionally regarded as within the exclusive purview of governments.

For governments, effectively anticipating and responding to the diversity and complexity of civil society in Canada, and the changes that are occurring in that sector, will be critical to understanding the issues important to Canadians and developing policies and programs to address them. Governments are increasingly recognizing the importance of moving beyond ‘consultation’ to more effectively engaging with civil society on aspects of policy, service delivery, data gathering, and more. To make this transition to a more effective, engaged and collaborative approach, governments need to gain insight into the different clusters of interests, capacities, forms and drivers that make up Canadian civil society.

Thus, the Institute on Governance (IOG) seeks to explore three main questions:

  • What do we mean by the term ‘civil society’, and why does the term and its role matter?
  • What are the main drivers impacting civil society and governance?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities to strengthening cross-collaboration in civil society?