Civil Society and Communication

Academic Program: Master of Arts in Public Policy
Instructor: Kate Coyer

Credits: 2.0
Fall Semester 2013/2014

Course description: 

A robust, independent and effective civil society is fundamental for free, fair and transparent democracies. Civil society is fundamental to multi-stakeholder policy making, challenge established political processes and open up space for new forms of governance. However, the term itself is a contested one. Is civil society a necessarily broad church for inclusion of the wide range of non-state and non-corporate actors, or is it watered-down global governance  speak that neutralizes social movements and civic engagement?

At the same time, for civil society to function, a free, fair and transparent media environment and communicative space must also exist. Central to this is the evolution of digital technologies and the emergence of new ways of on and offline convergence of communication and organization, as well as new challenges for being heard in a sea of information, messages, and messengers. 

So as to better understand the role of civil society in policy advocacy, we will explore these debates in theory and practice. We will seek to unpack key concepts to better understand the origins of civil society and civic discourse, discuss the emergence of a so-called global civil society, and learn from social movement theory how civil society actors can influence policy-making. Drawing on a range of examples from human rights and communication rights movements, we will examine communication strategies and uses of new and old technologies; we will examine the impact of the media on policy advocacy and discourse and look at how NGOs and activists engage with and through the media; we will look at tools and tactics used by civil society in advocating for social change; and we will ask what kind of enabling environment may be necessary for more democratic forms of participation to flourish. As a final project, students will develop their own advocacy campaigns and accompanying communication strategies.