Engagement Circles

Engagement Circles

Central our approach to engagement are four sets of constituents: civil society, governance institutions, business organizations, and research-based entities. Together they form a powerful circle for developing partnerships. The purpose of this tool is to sensitize practitioners to the broad range of partners and constituents relevant to working on the complex issues associated with urban change. For example, there is a tendency in the urban sustainability projects to think that by having a large corporate partner on a project the business field is comfortably covered. However, in the Circles approach corporations are only one of a number of business partnerships that can be forged, including non-profit and co-operative enterprises.

Move your cursor over the Circle below to see the four domains, each with four subdomains.


1. Civil Society

Civil society is defined as the many forms of public associational life that exist beyond the spheres of the state or the market, not including personal and familial relations. The formation of civil society depends upon the distinction between the private and the public. In being in the public sphere, civil society thus does not encompass personal or immediate genealogical relations. Civil society organizations cross all four domains of social life: ecology, economics, politics and culture.

  1. Individuals and Communities
  2. Community-Based and Faith-Based Organizations
  3. Social Movements and Networks
  4. Non-government Organizations and Foundations

2. Governance Institutions

Governance institutions are defined as the many different forms of legitimated bodies that have a designated responsibility in relation to a defined territory, constituency, community, and/or regime of activity. Here the concepts of ‘institution’ or ‘having designated responsibility’ do not just include modern bodies with formal juridical power. For example, ‘elders and councils’ includes customary or traditional elders — informal but critically important political leaders in tribal or faith-based communities. Governance institutions have their primary base in the political domain.

  1. Elders and Councils
  2. Municipal and Provincial Governments
  3. States and Government Organizations
  4. International and Global Governance Organizations

3. Business Organizations

Business organizations are defined as bodies that operate with their primary base in the economic domain and have a significant proportion of their activities directed towards a market of some kind.

  1. Small and Medium Enterprises
  2. Corporations and Large Enterprises
  3. Co-operatives and State-run Enterprises
  4. Non-profit and Social Enterprises

4. Research-based Entities

Research-based entities are defined as those bodies that have enquiry and learning as their primary purpose. Such entities can be based in institutions and organizations across any of the other three spheres of public engagement. However, even if they are initiated, funded or hosted by other entities, their primary purpose should be systematic enquiry in specified fields. In other words, even if they are researching economic, political or ecological questions, research-based entities have their primary base in the cultural domain. Complicating issues arise when enquiry is completely harnessed for instrumental ends. For example, when, for a particular organization, market-based performance indicators overwhelm the task of enquiry and the applied commercial outcomes become more important than the research itself, then this entity might be better described as a ‘business organization with research tasks’ than a ‘research-based entity’.

  1. Individual Researchers and Research Groups
  2. Research Centres and Institutes
  3. Universities and Colleges
  4. Think tanks and Research-based Foundations

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