Parliamentary Triangle Seminar Series

The Emergence of Civic Enterprises: Social Innovation, Governance and Democratic Renewal in a Neoliberal World

Mon 3 April 2017Hendrik Wagenaar / MondayVenue: Old Parliament House, Members' Dining Room 2

TIME: 5.00pm for a 5.30pm start. 

Drinks and light refreshments will be provided.

This event is free and open to the public. For catering and planning purposes, please RSVP: UCIGPA | at |


This event is hosted by the Centre for Change Governance at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra.

Social innovations, such as the civic enterprises that are the subject of this lecture, are generally defined by their ability to satisfy community needs, to reconfigure social relations, and by their ability to empower or politically mobilise peripheral groups (Moulaert et. al, 2013, 2). To be called innovative they must suggest alternatives to dysfunctional practices and institutions (Unger, 2015). According to these criteria civic enterprises in the domains of energy, neighbourhood renewal, and social care can be called successful. However, civic enterprises emerge and operate in an environment of major change in governance and public administration that compel us to interpellate the innovative nature of civic enterprises.

Austerity doctrines, large cutbacks to municipality budgets in combination with devolution of essential services to municipalities, the continuing privatisation and financialisation of the public sector, and doctrines of public administration based on corporate principles, have led to exclusion of vulnerable groups, a deteriorating quality and sometimes loss of essential services, widespread alienation, and, on the part of government, an erosion of the capacity to deliver. This has resulted in a range of initiatives by government agencies to involve, implicate and co-opt citizens in the production and delivery of social services.

Using research on civic initiatives in the realm of social care, I want to demonstrate the precarious quality of these initiatives against the background of these transformations of the administrative order. Whilst community needs are usually met (although sometimes at a limited scale), the judgment on the reconfiguration of social relations, empowerment and political mobilization is more ambivalent. Does this involvement of citizens in service delivery represent a genuine transfer of sovereignty or the dumping of state tasks on overworked and ill-prepared citizens?

Civic enterprises often struggle to sustain the strength of their informal qualities in the face of legal and bureaucratic procedure. Do the political innovations of civic enterprises, such as the cooperative, scale up to the administrative state or, conversely, does involvement with the state compromise cooperative ideals and practices? Are civic enterprises a form of democratic renewal along the well-known dimensions of franchise, scope and authenticity? This lecture will engage with these crucial questions as well as others.

Hendrik Wagenaar is a Professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield. Professor Wagenaar is internationally renowned for his research on participatory democracy and local governance, practice theory and interpretive policy analysis, including projects on urban governance, prostitution policy, social welfare, policy implementation and the (unintended) consequences of public policy making.

He has extensive experience working with local policy makers on funded research projects, including the Department of Education, Culture and Welfare in The Hague, a project examining study innovations in social service delivery to frequent offenders, and a comparative study of prostitution policy in the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden. These projects have been conducted in close collaboration with city officials, citizens and stakeholders in order to better understand how governance can be made more responsive and democratically inclusive. Professor Wagenaar’s recent publications include Meaning in Action: Interpretation and Dialogue in Policy Analysis, which was published by M.E. Sharpe in 2011, and Practices of freedom: Decentred governance, conflict and democratic participation (co-edited with Steven Griggs and Aletta Norval), which was published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press. Professor Wagenaar completed his PhD in the Department of Urban Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has held positions at Harvard Medical School, Northeastern University (Boston), and the Department of Public Administration at Leiden University.

He joined the University of Sheffield in November 2011 and is currently a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Change Governance at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra.

Click here to download flyer

Back to Parliamentary Triangle Seminar Series