Building a stronger civil society

James Allen, Director of Policy, Governance and External Affairs at the Sport and Recreation Alliance, encourages members to engage in a new consultation to help Government shape its strategy for civil society. 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has launched an engagement exercise to inform the Government in developing its strategy on civil society. There are some strong parallels with the sport strategy that members will be much more familiar with – the consultation is very open, the definition of the sector it will apply to is broad and there are clear ambitions to drive genuine cross-government working. 

The battle to define ‘civil society’ is one that many people wrestle with – and the Government has taken what I believe is a wise decision to cast the net as far as possible. For this exercise, it encompasses everything that is not the public sector – traditional charities and volunteer groups, but also social enterprises, mutuals and private sector businesses delivering some form of social action or corporate social responsibility. 

Sport and recreation is a key component of civil society and of the voluntary sector more specifically. Almost five years since moving to the Alliance, I’m still struck by the perceived and unhelpful divide between sport and ‘other parts’ of civil society. There is probably fault on all sides for this, but in government terms at least there has been some marked progress in bringing these different parts of the sector together and the launch of the exercise also serves as a useful reminder of the shared Ministerial portfolio between sport, civil society (and other related areas including tackling loneliness).  

I’d encourage members to engage in this exercise – both independently and collectively through the Alliance. This offers a great opportunity both to articulate the value of sport and recreation to building a stronger civil society and also to think about what government can do to help us engage more people in volunteering and social action.  

The consultation is comprehensive and covers several areas – though the format is very open and flexible you can respond to as much (or as little) as you feel able. I’d also welcome the opportunity to use your experiences, views and evidence to shape our own response and so please get in touch with me and the team if you’re able to do that.  

The areas covered in this exercise include: 

  1. Defining and scoping what constitutes civil society – its strengths and weaknesses, policy role and representative capacity. I’ll be making the point very strongly here that sport is an essential component of civil society – delivering inclusive social action and bringing people together in large numbers across the country; 
  2. People – how to create more opportunities, promote social action and how to engage under-represented groups. This chimes very strongly with our own priorities and our own work around volunteering which forms a big part of our own strategy; 
  3. Partnership – with a strong acknowledgement that this is challenging! This section also includes several questions on finance, and we’ll be reiterating previous points around the need to build more capacity within our own sector to better understand and access alternative sources of funding; 
  4. Place – how to build a strong identity and purpose and to deliver strong public services – this is a crucial area where the local sport sector infrastructure adds considerable value. 

We will be commenting on this in more detail in the coming weeks, but in the meantime you can find out more detail about the engagement exercise here.