Public Engagement, Community Groups, and Civil Society
By Emily Kathan
How do we build community? How do we come to feel at home and invested in the places where we live? Many people think that a lot of this is determined by the kinds of community groups that exist within a given region, province, and nation. These sorts of groups are sometimes referred to as part of something called civil society. Defined as the “third sector” of society (government and business are the other two), civil society is made up of organizations and institutions that further the goals and rights of citizens. This can mean a broad range of things, from environmental research and activism, like the Ecology Action Centre, to front-line anti-poverty supports, like the Wolfville Food Bank. These groups are often non-profits, and work independently from government (although, like many private businesses, they may apply for and receive grants, or other supports from various levels of government, so the relationship can sometimes seem complicated). Non-partisan political groups like The Springtide Collective and Engage Nova Scotia are great examples of civil society here in Nova Scotia. These groups conduct research and develop educational materials aimed at increasing engagement and participation in municipal and provincial politics, as well as promoting conversations about where Nova Scotia communities are going and how our society works. Springtide has outlined their vision, in part, as “a democracy where it’s easier to think of reasons to step up and get engaged, than it is to think of reasons to stay home,” which seems both ambitious and possible, if we all work together.
What has been your experience of getting involved in your community? Have something to say about civil society? Write to me at distribution@