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Citizens and Local Government

Helmut Klages

Voluntary Civic Engagement inthe Local Community

1. The Concept Field
2. Voluntary Civic Engagement in the Focus of Empirical Research
    2.1 Local Setting
    2.2 Scope for Promoting Civic Engagement
    2.3 Change in the Motives for Civic Engagement
3. Local Government Volunteering Promotion
    3.1 The Civic Community Model - Visions and Criteria
    3.2 Current Practice in Local Government Volunteering Promotion
4. Success Factors in Local Government Volunteering Promotion
    4.1 Systematic Development of "Voluntary Civic Engagement"
    4.2 Consciousness-Raising and Education
    4.3 Development of a Volunteering Promotion Infrastructure
    4.4 Local Stocktaking and Performance Monitoring
    4.5 Training for Human Resources Development
    4.6 Development of an Appreciation Culture
    4.7 Interaction between Different Levels of Politics and Administration
5. Conclusion

Notes
References

Abstract
In the vast majority of cases, volunteering - voluntary civic engagement - is a local matter in both substance and origin. Although civic engagement is more widespread among the population than was believed not so long ago, there is still considerable scope for promoting volunteering, to judge by the evident activatable potential for such activities. This is a opportunity and task of great moment for local government. In choosing the optimum strategy for promoting civic engagement, it is indispensable to take account of the shift in volunteer motivation occasioned by societal value change. Likely factors for the successful promotion of local civic engagement are more intensive consciousness raising and education, the development of an appropriate infrastructure, local stocktaking and performance monitoring to develop human resources and an appreciation culture going beyond the conventional level.

 

1. The Concept Field

In English-speaking countries there seem to be hardly any doubts about the meaning of the term "volunteering." The term, referring to unpaid, voluntary activities carried out in the interest of others or of superordinate interests, covers a very broad but clearly definable range. There is full agreement on its meaning not only among experts but also in everyday language, where it is well established and where the concept enjoys high status. In German, surprisingly, there is no equivalent. Experts use a number of expressions to denote the subject field: "Ehrenamt" (literally "honorary office"), "bürgerschaftliches Engagement" ("civic engagement"), "zivilgesellschaftliches Engagement" ("civil-societal engagement"), "Selbsthilfe" ("self-help"), "Bürgerarbeit" ("citizen work"), and "Freiwilligenarbeit" ("volunteer work") are often used synonymously and thus compete with one another. However, these terms are to some extent assigned different, usually not clearly differentiated meanings. Characteristically, the final report on the "Volunteer Report 1999" ("Freiwilligenreport 1999") states that "in German usage … there is no unambiguous, generally understood term denoting the subject of this study" (Rosenbladt 2000: 43). Thus it is not surprising that none of these terms "can be used without ambiguity" in surveys (ibid.), and that responses differ depending on where the focus is put.

The existing "Babylonian confusion of tongues" (KGSt 1999: 43) is to be blamed for the widely divergent findings of such surveys in past years, even in attempting to establish the extent of volunteering. Conceptual analysis in the context of the "Volunteer Report 1999" showed that experts' ill-defined usage is matched by a diffuse comprehension of the field among many volunteers, as well. Respondents frequently referred to identical activities by different names; apparently they often decided ad hoc for one or other of the terms proposed (cf. Rosenbladt 2000: 50 ff.) without hitting on the colloquial expression they themselves use for their activities with any certainty. The overall impression is that very many volunteers thought primarily in terms of the activity of the moment without showing any great awareness of the general community service context in which it was embedded (cf. Klages 2000: 171). The picture is completed by the discovery that local authorities mostly fail to realise that moves to promote civic engagement contribute to the development of the entire community. Many local authority staff identify "almost exclusively with the service specific to their position or department, e.g., the transfer of facilities to sports clubs" (Holzrichter 2002: 190).

A authoritative German denotation for the entire filed has indeed been sought (cf. Evers 1999; Heinze/Olk 1999, etc.), but it has yet to be found. Although the Volunteer Report 1999 found that only 6% of volunteers can identify with the terms "bürgerliches Engagement" ("civic engagement") or "Bürgerengagement" ("citizen engagement"), the Bundestag Commission of Inquiry "The Future of Civic Engagement" opted for the former, which it defines as covering "a wide range of engagement - political, social and sociable" (Enquete-Kommission 2002: 73 ff.). For its part, the Projektverbund Ehrenamt advisory board, which was responsible for the Volunteer Report 1999, had already decided in favour of "freiwilliges Engagement" ("voluntary engagement"), arguing that no less than 48% of respondents in the field identified with the concept "Freiwilligenarbeit" ("volunteer work"). If the term "freiwilliges bürgerschaftliches Engagement" ("voluntary civic engagement") then came to be used to describe the totality of unpaid, voluntary work performed by citizens outside their professional activities in the interest of others or of superordinate common interests, it was something of a "judgement of Solomon."(1) In consonance with the measurement concept of the Volunteer Report 1999 and the Bundestag commission of inquiry, this latter term was also basically intended to include civic activities directed towards participation in politico-administrative policy and decision making processes (cf. Wollmann in this volume).

 

2. Voluntary Civic Engagementin the Focus of Empirical Research

 

2.1 Local Setting

The Local Level as Field of Reference

Empirical surveys have generally made no distinction between voluntary civic engagement within and outside the local frame of reference. However, the local setting predominates everywhere - at least whenever the concept is not applied exclusively to activities directly relating to the municipal politico-administrative control and decision-making system.

The local setting of volunteering in this broader sense is confirmed by the findings of the Volunteer Report 1999 on the distribution of activities across the 15 "areas of life and society" which it covers (Rosenbladt 2000: 40). The explanatory notes on these areas make it quite clear. For example, the organisational basis for volunteering is stated to include sports clubs, fitness groups, senior-citizen clubs, theatre and music groups, choral societies, parent-teacher associations, student associations, self-help groups, parishes, local or city councils, children and youth groups, hospital visiting services, local exchange and trading societies, swapshops, working parties on community and traffic planning, civic clubs, etc. All such organisations are components of the institutional and sub-institutional network characteristic of the locally constituted community structures of developed modern societies; for present purposes it is irrelevant whether they are "traditional" or "evolved" elements, whether they have their origins in modern "social movements" or are "rationally planned."

Almost always, however, local reference is direct, even for volunteer work in the framework of welfare associations or other relief organisations, in trade unions, environmental and nature conservation organisations, and in political parties with a supra-local purpose. It can be assumed that volunteers in these contexts work for local branches of larger organisations, and that their activities therefore have a local focus. The only groups of volunteers without such local focus are unpaid officials in associations and parties at higher organisational levels, lay judges and disciplinary court judges, volunteers working with delinquents, and members of civic groups and projects involved in supra-local activities who are located in a certain community only "by chance" and are not substantively integrated into the local network of institutions and functions. It must therefore be assumed that, with very few exceptions, the 34% of people in Germany over the age of 14 who are recorded as "volunteers" by the nation-wide Volunteer Report 1999 (cf. Rosenbladt 2000: 18) are to be regarded as "volunteers in the immediate local context." The Bundestag commission of inquiry is therefore right in considering the local community to be "the principal arena of civic engagement" (Enquete-Kommission 2002: 333).

Local Integration as Condition of Emergence

Research has also shown that people's integration in the local environment depends decisively on the extent of their civic engagement. According to Gensicke, "the inclination for voluntary engagement can depend not only on demographic, socio-economic, and structural characteristics but also on both the local environment and the degree of a person's integration" (Gensicke 2000: 49). In his "explanatory model for voluntary engagement," Gensicke concludes that "the most powerful independent explanatory factor for 'active involvement' and 'voluntary engagement'" was "the size of the person's circle of friends and acquaintances … representing an overarching 'phenomenon of a person's social integration' outside the family circle" (ibid.: 60). It is therefore not surprising that the size of the community in question correlates negatively with the extent of civic engagement, and core cities, where people live in anonymity, show a lower density of volunteers than the urban periphery (cf. ibid.: 50). This is consistent with the particularly high rates of volunteering in rural areas with a relatively long-established population and close personal ties, and with the fact that the engagement in volunteer activity correlates with the duration of residence in the place concerned.

 

2.2 Scope for Promoting Civic Engagement

Importance of Personal Development and Life Circumstances

At first glance - at least according to the empirical data available on volunteering motivation - there is little scope for the active promotion of civic engagement. The local focus of volunteering alone seems to indicate that motivation depends on intact local personal and social conditions, and can therefore be little influenced by the means open to promotion policy. Other research findings can be similarly interpreted. Empirical findings on the reasons for voluntary civic engagement compiled by Gensicke show a striking influence of the "elementary demographic structural characteristics 'gender' and 'age' (ibid.: 40). Women are far less committed than men, and people over 65 far less than younger people. In Gensicke's comprehensive explanatory model, the size of a person's local circle of friends and acquaintances is joined by other variables that have "noteworthy" explanatory force: the strength of church ties, the size of household income, the extent of political interest, household size, and educational level. None of these factors seem able to provide a starting point for the targeted promotion of civic engagement. It threatens to lead into the difficult terrain of personal history and the embeddedness of individual social biographies in the life space. This view seems to be confirmed by the spectacular empirical findings on access paths to civic engagement, namely that "the majority of people now involved in volunteering first became involved in voluntary work in their youth or early adulthood" (Abt/Braun 2000: 212), and that the most important encouragement for civic engagement came from others involved in volunteering who themselves held leading positions in groups or organisations, or from friends, acquaintances, and members of the family (cf. ibid.: 219). It therefore seems likely that a "selective pre-steering" of civic engagement takes place at the level of personal development and life circumstances (cf. Klages 1999a: 112).

Volunteering Potential as Indicator of Scope for Promotion

Empirical research can nevertheless show that there is very substantial scope for actively promoting volunteering.

This scope can best be assessed on the basis of data on the potential for volunteering which have been collected in recent years. There are, it seems, many people who are not (or no longer) engaged in volunteer work but who are interested in such activities (26% of the population above the age of 14), or who are currently involved in volunteering but would be willing to devote more time and energy to it (11% of those over 14) (cf. Klages 2000: 127 ff.). This unexpectedly strong interest and willingness to engage in volunteer work, far in excess of current figures, can be explained as follows.

  1. The largest group of interested non-volunteers is composed of people not integrated in a volunteering-focussed social milieu in terms of their biography and dwelling environment, but who, although motivated for volunteer work, fail to become involved precisely because of their lacking integration. Asked why they are not involved, such respondents often reply, "no-one asked me," "I know too little about it," "I don't know anyone I can approach," or "I don't want to have anything to do with complete strangers" (Klages 1999a: 116). All these answers point to one and the same lack: that of a socially integrative placement agent; but they also indicate that volunteering could be promoted by "stepping in" in a compensatory capacity.
  2. In second place comes a large group of people (about one third of those currently not involved in volunteering) who had previously undertaken volunteer work but are no longer active in the field, and who, despite their basic willingness to do so, no longer know how to get started. This surprising inability to resolve a seemingly easy to resolve individual problem can be explained firstly by the fact that civic engagement is not always a permanent activity accompanying a personal biography without interruption but, in most cases, a discontinuous commitment (cf. Klages 2000: 134 ff.; Abt/Braun 2000: 212 ff.; Gensicke 2000: 98). This is because activities either come to an end as a matter of course or critical personal circumstances intervene (the birth of a child, moving house, illness, other periods of great personal stress), forcing the person concerned to abandon his or her activities. One of the typical consequences seems to be that it is not possible simply to take up the thread again at the point where it had been dropped, either because conditions in the former area of activity or personal interests have changed. Once again, this points to the possibility of promoting civic engagement by intervening to facilitate access to volunteer work that permits broader, individual options and openings.
  3. The numerous people currently engaged in volunteering who are interested and willing to expand their activities points to another shortcoming and to further opportunities and fields for the promotion of volunteering. The key to what keeps such people from acting in keeping with their interests and inclinations is provided by the empirical finding that most of them want qualitative improvements and changes in the activity concerned (cf. Klages 2000: 160). They feel volunteering demands too little of them because they are denied the opportunity to perform attractive roles of responsibility. They want more demanding, more independent, and more responsible activities, and also more training. The opportunity for volunteering promotion in this connection is to modernise the structures that permit responsible roles to be increased and made accessible (cf. Klages 2002: 145 ff.).
 

2.3 Change in the Motives for Civic Engagement

The Socio-Cultural Background: Societal Value Change

The expectations described above reflect a more general trend, centred in the changes in societal values that have occurred since the first half of the 1960s, and which have strongly influenced both the willingness of the public to engage in volunteering activities and also their motivation for doing so. It is indispensable to take account of value change if the promotion of volunteering is to kept step with societal development.

Although the data situation is far from satisfactory, all the information available indicates that, despite pessimistic assessments to the contrary, public willingness to engage in volunteer work has increased rather than decreased in recent decades. The main source for information on the growth of volunteering in Germany is the Socio-Economic Panel (Sozio-ökonomisches Panel [SOEP]), a survey repeated annually since 1984. "Findings show that from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the number of Germans involved in volunteering increased by about 5%" (Rosenbladt 2000: 54).

The current extent of volunteering (see above) has caused astonishment in all quarters, because it contradicts common negative ideas about society, like the notion of the spread of an egotistical, pushy, greedy society. But it is still more surprising that, in the course of value change, there has been a direct causal connection between the growing willingness to become involved in volunteering activities and the advance of "individualistic" modern values of self-realisation. This counter-intuitive link has now been so clearly confirmed by the findings of empirical research that it can no longer be seriously doubted. This can be demonstrated by the following figure, which is based on data from the 1997 Speyer Values and Volunteering Survey.

On a scale giving the average strength of respondents' self-realisation values, the figure shows the rate of volunteers, of definite non-volunteers, and of prospective volunteers - non-volunteers interested in becoming involved. The curves provide an astonishingly clear picture of the very strong links between value orientations and willingness for civic engagement. Following the curves from left to right, i.e., from low to high self-realisation values, the proportions of volunteers, definite non-volunteers and interested non-volunteers are almost reversed. Among respondents with low self-realisation values, the rate of volunteers is very low and that of definite non-volunteers very high. Vice-versa, among respondents with strong self-realisation values the rate of volunteers is very high and that of definite non-volunteers very low. A similar, albeit somewhat weaker link is apparent with regard to interest in volunteering.(2) 

The explanation for this surprising state of affairs is that the individualism fostered by value change is not predominantly a goal-focussed "egoistic" individualism but a "ways and means" individualism in everyday activity, an "instrumental" individualism compatible with a wide range of substantive goals. In concrete terms, people have developed a strong need for autonomy and a wish to live their lives as independent "subjects of their own action." This is, in principle, consonant with "altruistic" goals, with which, as the data show, it is fully compatible.However, this need is accompanied by a strong demand for active co-determination and self-determination in social contexts, for "joining in" on the basis of one's own motivation and ability to make decisions, and for taking action on one's personal initiative and responsibility. And it is accompanied by a strong rejection of "heteronomous control," of the constraints of subordination and obedience, of being placed at the mercy of "authoritarian," impersonal powers of "top-down" command and instruction and the corresponding hierarchical structures (cf. Priller 1999: 135 ff., Heinze/Olk 1999: 88 ff, etc. for similar interpretations).

Changes in Volunteering Motivation Structure andNew Demands on Volunteering Promotion

These changes have far-reaching consequences for the volunteering promotion because they have profoundly changed the motivation structure of volunteers and prospective volunteers. Top of the list of empirical motives for volunteering is no longer a "selfless" readiness to serve others in self-denial but a self-regarding wish for "enjoyment." Quite understandably, this fact still shocks many traditionally positioned volunteers. Complaints about a "decline in values" in a "society intent on pleasure" still find widespread concurrence in these circles. The fact that most volunteers contribute only a limited amount of time (according to current figures, the overall average in Germany is 14.5 hours per month) is seen as proof of a growing unwillingness to accept burdens and responsibility.

However, it is overlooked that the "enjoyment" motive evinced by volunteers is closely associated with a public interest focus and a desire to help. "People take on voluntary work, do something for others … and at the same time do something for themselves, want to be appreciated, to have fun, to fulfil themselves; they want to take advantage of opportunities to participate in public life and in handling social affairs; they want to have the feeling that they are doing something useful, important, something for the common good, or are giving pleasure to others; they want to take on a bit of responsibility and perhaps spend their time with people whose company they enjoy" (Beher et al. 2000: 7). But they also want keep their options open for a wide range of challenges, which, in the modern society of options and opportunities, they must do if they wish to live by the principle of individual participation in life that has become such a central tenet.

It has not yet been sufficiently recognised and taken to heart that changes in volunteer motivation necessarily cause far-reaching "structural change in volunteering," and drastically modify the conditions for success in promoting civic engagement. Although there is widespread talk about the necessity to promote and develop an "appreciation culture," ideas about what actually needs to be done to achieve this goal remain vague or relatively conventional. All too often, the proposed solution still takes the form of honours and decorations, but such things are of secondary importance for volunteers themselves. And all too often it is overlooked that changed motivation among volunteers and prospective volunteers and requires more "responsible roles" for people who have little or variable time to invest (cf. Klages 2002: 145 ff. and below).

 

3. Local Government Volunteering Promotion

 

3.1 The Civic Community Model - Visions and Criteria

Regardless of the services that voluntary civic engagement already performs in the community (cf. Enquete-Kommission 2002: 333 f.), there is much reason to believe that considerably more can be achieved. The key indicator is the existence of untapped willingness to undertake volunteer work and a corresponding interest among the population (see above). It has become an accepted view that, in their own interests, local authorities should make a greater effort to promote volunteering. Such expectations are most clearly reflected in the increasing popularity of the "civic community" model proposed to local government, which some municipalities have already adopted, backed by intensified efforts to promote civic engagement.

A commitment to this model is to be found, for example, in the final report of the Bundestag Commission of Inquiry "The Future of Civic Engagement" (cf. Enquete-Kommission 2002: 335). The commission hopes this model will show the way to implementing the general vision of a local community in which all participants cooperate actively to attain public-regarding goals. This basic notion has also been adopted by the KGSt, for whom the "civic community" concept offers the prospect of a "revitalised sense of community" through the comprehensive "inclusion of the citizens." Like G. Banner, the KGSt sees the civic community as "committed to developing participative democracy and actively fostering the local community with the aim of safeguarding social cohesion. It promotes civic self-organisation to nurture a sense of community and to enable or maintain otherwise (or no longer) affordable services" (KGSt 1999: 16). This notion is shared by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Association for Active Citizenship (Verein Aktive Bürgerschaft e. V.), which enrich it with additional dimensions. For example, they associate the "perspective of civil society" with concepts like "strategic management" and "good governance." From this point of view "administrative models" need to be developed in the direction of "environment-focused, guarantor administration playing a mediating role for all the societal forces involved by exercising a sustained, positive influence on politico-strategic spheres of life in the interests and with the aid of citizens" (Pröhl et al. 2002: 19). This leads directly to the notion of the "activating State" advocated by the present federal government.(3) 

 

3.2 Current Practice in Local GovernmentVolunteering Promotion

There can be no doubt that most local authorities do not yet do justice to such forward-looking development ideas. The KGSt comments: "So far very few local authorities support civic engagement in the sense of 'creating a citizen-focussed community'"(KGSt 1999: 38).

Regardless of all apparent problems and resistance (cf., among others, KGSt 1999: 38; Enquete-Kommission 2002: 160 ff.; Holzrichter 2002), a considerable number of ground-breaking municipalities have committed themselves to the citizen-focussed community (or "civic community"), integrating the concept in their guiding and development principles, and beginning to put it into effect.

Overview: Forms of Citizen Focus in Local Government

 

More Citizen Work

More Administration Work

Goal-setting and planning

Contract Acceptor Role

Contract Giver Role

Election of local council;

Co-planning procedures through public hearings, citizen meetings, ombudsmen, task forces;

Direct mayoral elections;

Consultative procedures in budgetary and financial planning, model development;

Citizen initiatives, referendums;

 

Participation in political parties and interest groups;

 

Residents' question time;

 

Cooperative planning objects, district initiatives;

 

Co-planning through citizen meetings, future search workshops, task forces, planning cells, city forums;

 

Implementation

Collaborator Role

Customer Role

Self-government;

Customer surveys, public surveys;

Self-organisation and self-help by associations and citizens' action groups;

Customer-focussed services (e.g., citizen offices, active complaints management, building offices, social bureaus, call centres);

Promotion of private volunteering (LETS, non-market services: volunteer centres, playground sponsorship, energy conservation measures, maintenance of street space and public green spaces).

Administration marketing.

Source: Bogumil/Holtkamp (1999: 16).

In an attempt to provide an overview of frequent forms of citizen focus in local government, Bogumil und Holtkamp (1999: 16) have produced the systematisation shown above.

Like other classifications, it reveals a broad, only weakly structured spectrum of disparate practical approaches, which is also typical of specific citizen-focus and/or volunteering promotion concepts adopted by the individual local authorities concerned. In other words, the civic community model currently lacks a clear implementation concept and a clearly defined action focus. "What measures are ultimately taken in the various municipalities depends on many different factors: the prevailing administrative culture, regional tradition, the size of the city/town/rural district, the assertiveness of top administration, the extent of political pressure exerted by volunteers, the willingness of the administrative authorities to accept change, the will of the political parties to take citizens' civic engagement seriously, and the nature and scope of club and association policy" (KGSt 1999: 40)

The links between the more or less random bundles of measures developed on the basis of local circumstances and diffuse goals are often very difficult to perceive. It therefore cannot be expected that such measures will achieve optimum promotion of civic engagement. One frequent conceptual shortcoming is the terminological confusion described above, which combines with differing and/or fuzzily overlapping precepts that pick single segments out of the broad field of "civic community" and ignore others. It can happen that measures are decided in the pragmatic hope of relieving pressure on local government budgets. In other cases the stress is placed on participatory concepts, possibly associated with notions of grass-roots democracy subscribed to by particularly active, "progressive" forces in politics.

Another wide-spread deficiency is apparent: as we have seen, research indicates that too little attention is paid to strategic priorities in promoting civic engagement. These findings suggest first priority should be given to exhausting the existing potential for volunteering in the population, keeping specific locational and causal factors in mind. Compensating deficient social and life space access paths, which requires socio-organisational remedies, is typically a task for local government that cannot be performed by any other level in the federal system. For this reason local authorities must be expected to devote greater attention to this task and other levels of the federal system must be counted on to support them in doing so.

Finally, little attention is paid to the results of efforts to promote volunteering and to the factors for success in this field. In particular, there have been hardly any attempts at volunteering controllership, which, by evaluating promotion measures and enabling learning and improvement processes, would help increase efficiency and effectiveness. Municipal practice in civic engagement promotion thus shares a more general deficiency with administrative modernisation since the beginning of the 1990s: the discrepancy between a strongly developed will to innovate and an only weakly developed interest in establishing the preconditions for the sustainability of innovations.

 

4. Success Factors in Local Government Volunteering Promotion(4) 

 

4.1 Systematic Developmentof "Voluntary Civic Engagement"

The empirical detection of unexpectedly large, untapped reserves of civic engagement in the population (see above) could wrongly suggest it would be easy to increase the number of people willing to undertake volunteering activities in the community. On the contrary, experience has shown that it is often difficult to win additional people for volunteer work.

Fundamental social-critical scepticism about the credibility of empirical findings concerning the public potential for civic engagement should not be the reaction to this - certainly correct - assessment. More appropriate would be to tackle the problems that large sections of the population have in accessing volunteering activities. It would be both a theoretical and practical advance if these deficiencies were to be recognised as systemic (cf. Klages 2000: 174 ff.; also Abt/Braun 2000: 199 ff.; Enquete-Kommission: 318 ff.; Heinze/Olk 1999: 93 ff.). This focuses attention on the fact that, despite the extent of volunteering and the evident need for and interest in it, voluntary civic engagement remains a relatively undeveloped area of societal activity, unlike, for example, "gainful employment." Whereas the societal need for work is addressed by a highly differentiated institutional apparatus, which serves and controls this need and guides it into practicable channels, there is hardly any functional equivalent in the field of voluntary civic engagement. From a practical point of view, volunteering takes place largely in the framework of professionally controlled organisations, particularly non-statutory welfare organisations, which - apart from managerial activities performed in an honorary capacity - tend to exploit volunteer work "on the quiet" as an additional resource without taking it into account in their statutes and structures.

The shortcomings of the system are most drastically apparent in the difficulties of access. Whereas "gainful employment" is served by a comprehensive apparatus designed to place (or reinsert) the economically active population in suitable work, there has so far been nothing comparable for "voluntary civic engagement," except for isolated approaches left to the initiative of "ground-breaking" local authorities (see above and below). No resounding success in boosting volunteering potential can be expected as long as this state of affairs continues. Recognition of the need for "voluntary civic engagement" to be systematically developed under the responsibility of the politico-administrative authorities is indispensable before specific measures are taken.

 

4.2 Consciousness-Raising and Education

Prior to deciding specific measures and in view of systemic deficiencies, the general lack of awareness must be remedied. A start must be made in resolving the conceptual confusion and, especially, in broadening the overly narrow perspective of volunteers, prospective volunteers, administrative staff, and politicians, who tend to focus not on "civic engagement" as such but only on the specific activity in hand (see above). One of the decisive factors keeping former volunteers from returning to volunteer work, and which thus contributes to the continual "loss of blood" in the field, is that, however willing they might be to contribute and whatever their personal commitment, most have failed to gain a conviction that the work done has had a major function in society. They had not developed a motivation inspired by a sense of the greater context beyond the narrow horizon of their immediate activities. Very intensive and, above all, well-focussed educational work is needed in this regard. The aim should be to establish the missing links between the general and the specific. Campaigns like the "International Year of Volunteers 2002" are useful for this purpose, but are only isolated contributions that need to be consistently followed up and intensified.

 

4.3 Development of a VolunteeringPromotion Infrastructure

A comprehensive treatment of volunteering promotion measures is beyond the scope of this article. It seeks rather to stress major aspects, to focus on certain approaches which, in view of the deficiencies mentioned, must be considered to play a key role.

This is particularly the case with the need to establish volunteering promotion infrastructures at the local level. In abstract terms, they are facilities capable of developing a "multi-functional" performance profile. The first priority is to provide access to volunteering activities for potential volunteers, either former volunteers or people who have developed an interest in such activities for the first time. This primary task requires infrastructural facilities to perform the following functions: people interested in volunteering must be actively approached, outreach not mere responsiveness is needed. Furthermore, intensive and realistic information and advice on questions of local volunteering must be provided, adapted to the particular case and directly implementable. It is essential for such facilities to be accessible at a "low-threshold" level. That is to say, using them must not be conditional on membership of a certain social group, organisation or religious community. Local authorities are therefore the ideal supporting organisations, although others may be possible. Facilities must also be easy to find and, like municipal "citizen offices," and possibly combed with them, they must be within easy reach. Moreover, they must be able to establish direct contact with groups and organisations that offer openings for volunteers, and must offer a placement service. In addition, they must provide accompanying evaluation of placements and intervene to help or put things to right when placements fail to work out. They must also be able to find potential employers of volunteers or to motivate organisations to create volunteer employment openings. Finally, they must actively monitor the quality of working conditions for volunteers in the local context and provide the appropriate information, advice, and evaluation.

Disregarding approaches to integrate citizens in the local politico-administrative decision-making system, it is apparent that three types of facilities have come into being in recent years that basically satisfy these criteria, namely "self-help contact points, senior citizen bureaus, and volunteer agencies" (Braun et al. 2001: 80 ff.). Common to all these "volunteering support facilities" is that they are able to provide effective volunteering promotion with relatively scant human resources, far less than, for example, those required by placement agencies in the field of "gainful employment." The fact that these facilities can supplement their full-time staff with volunteers plays a role in this respect. Easily financable models for the required procedures are therefore available. What has so far been lacking is the general willingness of local authorities either to set up such a core element of volunteering promotion themselves or to assume responsibility as guarantor for its establishment. In 2000, only "383 municipalities had one or more such information offices and contact points. … The density of information offices and contact points in relation to all local authorities is thus still inadequate" (ibid.). It is therefore urgent that local authorities make a start with the "institutional" promotion of volunteering.

If approaches to integrating citizens in the local politico-administrative decision-making system are taken into account, the range of infrastructure for promoting volunteering broadens. For example, it includes citizen meetings, discussion forums, surveys, planning cells, quality circles, and focus groups (cf. Holzrichter 2002: 213 ff.). It is striking that the German literature has not yet adopted the concept of "citizen panel" ("Bürgerpanel"), which is writ large in other countries. They are relatively large, representative groupings of citizens who are willing to participate in frequent surveys, and who on this basis can be won for further activities, so that a relatively broad core group of citizens permanently willing to participate can be developed at the local level, which as a rule had not previously existed.

 

4.4 Local Stocktaking and Performance Monitoring

Adrian Reiner is concerned exclusively with the integration of citizens in the local policy and decision making system when he writes of the need for "local democracy reporting as a self-evaluation tool," mentioning, among other things, stocktaking and controllership (cf. Reinert 2002: 158 ff.). However, this point of view can be generalised to cover the entire field of voluntary civic engagement. The reason for thus upgrading an often still underestimated area of activity that has, at best, only just begun to be tackled, is that it remains a largely unknown quantity at the level of the individual municipality as regards both supply and demand, notwithstanding the comprehensive data available at the supra-local level. Very few local authorities are at present in a position to make a realistic assessment of how many local residents are involved or interested in volunteer work, nor of the extent to which local volunteering potential has been exhausted. Just as little is known about what specific possibilities there are for civic engagement in a community, about the extent to which supply corresponds to demand, what developments have taken place over time, what educational and informational activities exist or are needed, how the success of activities is to be judged, what skills are needed in the volunteering field, what resources are available to meet this need, etc. It is therefore advisable, firstly, to conduct a regular survey among the local population, which, if necessary, can be assigned to a citizen panel (see above), and, secondly, to publish a regular, i.e., annual or biannual local volunteer report with descriptive and evaluative sections, to be submitted for discussion by the local council.

 

4.5 Training for Human Resources Development

As in "gainful employment," skills play a decisive role in "voluntary civic engagement." However, the importance of skills in this field has been only reluctantly recognised. So far there has been little discussion of "human resources development" as a priority goal in volunteering.

The Bundestag Commission of Inquiry "The Future of Civic Engagement" correctly distinguishes two functional areas of volunteering skills: skills acquisition as a means to enhance the effectiveness of activities, and skills acquisition as an incentive (cf. Enquete-Kommission 2002: 279 ff.). In the first area, which has so far been given priority in approaches to action, the focus is on training the "highly active," who are particularly important as the core personnel in volunteer work or as initiators of civic engagement. New types of initial and further training courses for mentors and trainers are being developed, which have a key function to perform. But greater attention needs urgently to be given to broad "human resources development" wherever skills acquisition is intended to act as an incentive. It is very important to remember that one factor that motivates a considerable proportion of the young people willing to engage in volunteer work is the prospect of enhancing their employment prospects (Klages 2000: 152). The unconditional distinction between volunteer work and professional activity, often still treated as an article of faith, needs to be superseded by a holistic view that places volunteering in the context of the totality of a person's aims in life and is not shy of sounding out strategies for the productive functional interlinkage of the two areas.

 

4.6 Development of an Appreciation Culture

There is now widespread discussion of the need to develop an "appreciation culture." On closer inspection, however, it is apparent that the meaning of the term is shifting. Originally it applied only to the "classical practice of acknowledgement in volunteering" (Langfeld et al. 2002: 198) and to the perspective of intensifying this practice. Now it tends to cover everything that contributes to the ideational and practical enablement of civic engagement (ibid.).

We plead for a compromise position: to reserve the term for the changes in the form and style of civic engagement necessary to adjust to the structural change that has taken place in volunteering motivation under the influence of societal value change. The decisive criterion has already been mentioned: changes in volunteer motivation require "responsible roles" for people devoting little or variable time to volunteering activities. In concrete terms, volunteers must be given greater scope for independent activities performed in their own responsibility; but they cannot be expected or required to be available in the same measure as full-time staff working under a contract of employment or service. It must be assumed that volunteer work basically competes with other activities that are partly a professional or private commitment but which are also partly in the nature of an avocation. People with strong motivation influenced by value change nevertheless demand "time sovereignty." Traditional "selflessness" is often completely foreign to them. In the face of this novel attitude, traditional superordination/subordination models and conventional notions of "regular working hours" are misplaced, particularly in volunteer work. Far-reaching forms of flexitime are required. Flexible forms of organisation must be used in conjunction which permit and presuppose a large measure of self-organisation in the co-operative performance of tasks, e.g., self-organised substitution arrangements. Transition to a "trust culture" is needed, which includes abandoning conventional hierarchical models. The de facto or de jure "subordination" of voluntary "lay" helpers to "professional" full-time staff, which is still practiced in some local organisations and associations, must accordingly be drastically modified. Full-time and volunteer staff must become "partners" in a relationship based on reciprocity that is influenced and shaped by both parties. However, it should be stressed that this is not a question of "levelling down" but of establishing a relationship that can be described as "activating leadership" (cf. Klages 2002: 184 ff.).

 

4.7 Interaction between Different Levelsof Politics and Administration

It has been stressed that voluntary civic engagement is by its nature a field of activity with its focus in the local community. This does not mean that the federal and state governments are released from their responsibility for promoting volunteering (cf. KGSt 1999: 60). On the contrary, a division of labour is advisable: local authorities would support concrete activities, establish the necessary infrastructural conditions, and take care of coordination at the local level; state governments would be responsible for networking local authorities and associations, promoting best practices, stimulating the local will to promote volunteering, and appropriating resources to local centres of distribution; and the federal government could have the job of developing legal and financial framework conditions.

In the past, the federal government has assumed its part of responsibility in a series of important model projects, and recently by setting up the Commission of Inquiry "The Future of Civic Engagement." The commission has proposed that the federal government should take action in the following fields of law to enhance the promotion of volunteering: tax law relating to charities and donations, the law relating to charitable contributions, and insurance cover. Moreover, it advised the federal government to pay greater attention to the implementation of statutory arrangements, and, for example, to pressure statutory health insurance funds to ensure more vigorous implementation of the possibilities for self-help promotion provided for by Article 20 (4) Social Code, Book V and Article 29 Social Code, Book IX. The establishment of a central body at the federal level is also recommended, as well as central reporting in every legislative period (Enquete-Kommission 2002: 606 f.).

Reviewing state promotion policy, the commission report points to the special situation in Baden-Württemberg. In that state, "the promotion of civic engagement" has developed "as an independent area of action with independent institutions, high political priority, and growing integration into comprehensive state government strategy" (ibid.: 350 ff.). But there are many promising, isolated approaches in other states, as well. In Bavaria, for example, a special role is played by "activities relating to the family, youth, and the home region, as well as security and the fight against crime," and, for example, by the pilot scheme "Civic Work" ("Bürgerarbeit"). In Rhineland-Palatinate the focus is on "promoting volunteer exchanges and centres, self-help, further education for women in volunteer positions, and senior citizen volunteer work, in child and youth affairs, culture, and the environment." In Hessen "a campaign for the promotion of civic engagement has been running since 5th December 1999." In North Rhine-Westphalia the emphasis is on "sport, youth, senior citizens, and the family." In 2001, the state government had "not only organised a state competition and a major appreciation event but also introduced the 'State Certificate NRW Engaged in Social Volunteering'." In Schleswig-Holstein there are special moves to win women "for leading positions in volunteering." Other focal activities are the activation of school student representative bodies, the promotion of cooperation between schools and associations, and the promotion of child participation. Lower Saxony is concerned on the one hand with promoting and supporting "traditional" forms of volunteering, and on the other with increasing the rate of people in volunteer work through a "Civic Engagement Campaign for Lower Saxony." The commission considers the public and regional discourses initiated by the state government particularly important. In Saarland an umbrella organisation for civic engagement has been set up. There is also a coordinating office in the minister-president's office, an interministerial working group and a "round table" that brings together the various state networks. In the new federal states, fundamental reconstruction work was needed after the collapse of GDR structures. In Saxony, for instance, this led not only to the "subsidiarily oriented promotion of associations" but to "volunteering promotion and support programmes with a direct personal focus." Among the measures taken in Saxony-Anhalt is the "annual award of a badge of honour by the minister-president." It is also planned to "to provide state support for the development or further development of infrastructural facilities for the promotion of volunteering at the local and regional levels" (ibid.).

Among the strongly diverging activities undertaken by the states, the commission of inquiry abstracts three types, a "fragmented" type with numerous uncoordinated, isolated activities; an "symbolic-discursive" type, in which the discussion of volunteering at a high level predominates with comparatively few practical activities; and an "integrated" type with a comprehensive overall strategy. Only the state of Baden-Württemberg is judged to belong to this optimum type, although it is admitted that some other unnamed states "come very close" to it (ibid.: 366 f).

 

5. Conclusion

Considered as a whole, it is clear that the promotion of volunteering at the federal and state levels is still in an initial phase. If the situation at the local level is taken into account - a minority of innovative, trailblazing model local authorities and a vast majority of hesitant, tag-along communities - it must be concluded that the promotion of civic engagement is a sphere of activity with great potential that will require much more attention in the near future. The institutionalisation gap between "work" and "voluntary activity," between "professional" and "lay" work, or that between, for example "party democracy" and "democratic participation" needs to be overcome, requiring systemic reforms. But it is also indispensable to place such reforms realistically in the context of societal change and to pursue them with the insistent intent of upgrading and utilising the human resources and potential this very change has created.

 

Notes

(1) The author occasionally uses the shorter terms "freiwilliges Engagement" and "Engagement," which have been translated as "volunteering," "volunteering work/activity," or "civic engagement," but what is meant in all cases is "freiwilliges bürgerschaftliches Engagement" or "voluntary civic engagement." (back)

(2) The figure refers only to West Germany. However, the basic statements in the text also apply to East Germany. (back)

(3) All these notions anticipate the future - frequently in a still open and ambiguous manner - and evoke the image of societal change that is a jump ahead of currently observable facts. A request for concrete ideas associated with the civic community model produces references to competitions like the "Citizen-Focused Community - Ways to Strengthen Democracy" organised by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Association for Active Citizenship (cf. Pröhl 2000), the Speyer Quality Competition staged biannually since 1992, or the winners of such competitions, like Nürtingen (cf. Wolf 2002). (back)

(4) Lists of all possible factors for success in voluntary civic engagement or its promotion that overlap with the following list are to be found in, for example, KGSt (1999: 41 ff.) and Bogumil/Holtkamp (1999: 107 ff.). (back)

 

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