Civic Innovation in Theory, Policy and Practice (Academic Panel)

Session 1 Civic Innovation in Theory

Civic driven change (CDC) is a way to understand and analyse socio-political processes (Fowler and Biekart, 2008; 2013).  It is a founding framework for analysing innovations in civic agency that exhibit original, creative responses to shifts in state-society relations with many disruptive forces and multiple scales in play (Biekart, Harcourt and Knorringa, 2016).  The Panel will present theoretical advances which connect CDC and civic innovation with the growth in polycentric governance, that is an observed increase in sites of authority and rule-making that citizens’ encounter in daily life.  These factors appear to be increasing the immunity of power holders that sharpen inequalities.  The academic contribution will be complemented by the work of researchers from the Global South investigating this nexus in terms, inter alia, of multiple institutional types, their behaviours and interactions which co-determine the sustainability and equity of outcomes.  In doing so, this session will provide an analytic framing and grounding for a subsequent panel with a policy and practice focus.

Biekart, K., Harcourt, W. and Knorringa. P. (eds.)(2016)Exploring Civic Innovation for Social and Economic Transformation. London, Routledge.

Fowler, A. and Biekart, K. (eds)(2008)Civic Driven Change:  Citizen’s Imagination in Action. The Hague, Institute of Social Studies. <>

Fowler, A. and Biekart, K.(2013)‘Relocating Civil Society in a Politics of Civic-Driven Change’, Development Policy review 31 (4): 463-483.

Session 2 Civic innovation in Policy and Practice

This panel will take forward the academic, analytic session into applications of civic engagement and innovation undertaken by non-profit international aid organisations (INGOs) as they adjust to a fast shifting landscape of global sustainable development goals (SDGs), their anticipated financing modalities(Eurodad, 2015) and technology-driven processes of disintermediation in resource flows (ICSC, 2013).  These context-stetting dynamics raise the prospect of dysfunctional outcomes from aid policies and relational prescriptions designed for previous eras.  In this light, can policy change be crafted as a source of ‘creative friction’, driving organisational innovation, seen in blending into social enterprises and rebranding of INGOs as ‘local’ entities, which bring ethical challenges in terms of disruptions to and continued subordination of endogenous civic actors and their agency? The session will explore the extent to which academic research on CDC and civic innovation might be harnessed and scaled to achieve SDGs. How should policy-makers and practitioners engage positively with the disruption that stimulates civic innovation? What can traditional development actors (such as donors, private funders, international NGOs, capacity building providers, and development consultants) learn from examples of civic innovation to rethinkpolicy and practice?  In a sector riddled with accountability constraints and results frameworks what might a viable support programme for civic innovation look like; or is this itself a contradiction?

ICSC (2013)Riding the Wave – rather than being swept away:  A proposal for Boards and CEOs on how to prepare their organisation for disruptive change. Berlin, International Civil Society Centre.

Eurodad(2015)UN Financing for Development negotiations:  What outcomes should be agreed in Addis Ababa in 2105. Brussels, Eurodad.


Alan Fowler, Chair in African Philanthropy, University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Kees Biekart, Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University (Netherlands)

Rachel Hayman, Research and Communication Director, INTRAC (United Kingdom)