Academic journal article Central European Journal of Public Health

Civil Society Organisations and Public Health Research - Evidence from Eight European Union New Member States

Academic journal article Central European Journal of Public Health

Civil Society Organisations and Public Health Research - Evidence from Eight European Union New Member States

Article excerpt

SUMMARY

Introduction: Civil society organisations (CSO) are not-for-profit, non-governmental organisations operating in the public interest. They are the "third sector" that is strongly developed in Western European countries, ensuring the link between citizens and government and working as a counterbalance to the business sector. Their role in support of public health research deserves attention.

Methods: Within a broader European study (STEPS - Strengthening Engagement in Public Health Research), public health organisations in eight European Union new member states (Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia) identified national CSOs with interests in health. A questionnaire was developed jointly, translated into national languages and sent by e-mail to 474 organisations, with 128 completed responses (27%).

Results: Most CSOs would like to be more involved in setting or advising on public-health research policy, and greater collaboration between CSOs, professional organisations and governmental institutions. Respondents did not see CSOs directly doing research, but recommended mobilizing researchers and organsations, supporting research themes, and lobbying to use public health evidence in policy and decision-making. They could receive more education for, and discussion of, public health research, and offer support in applying for research funding.

Conclusion: Civil society organisations can contribute importantly in setting public health research agendas. Research commissioning should give greater recognition of this role, improve links between CSOs, researchers and governmental institutions, and develop a stronger shared basis for public health policy and practice.

Key words: research policy, Europe, public health, survey, civil society

INTRODUCTION

The improvement of health in the population (the practice of public health) depends on the working of different agencies and individuals within society. Governmental and public sector organisations have traditionally taken the leading role, working both in environmental control and with clinical healthcare services. Where individual responsibilities and actions interact with governmental measures for protection and health promotion, the voices of society are important. Yet, while representative government provides a means of decision-making and leadership for majority political opinions, minorities are not so well served by democracies. To represent the range of views, legal and social means have developed for civil society organisations to supplement representation through government.

Civil society has a range of definitions and understandings, related to the democratic traditions of each country. In ancient Rome, societas civilis concerned the rights and responsibility of individuals towards the state and society, and were separate from government. In the present day, 'civil society' is a way to coordinate and to express the needs of public groups. Civil society helps to mark out problems and to offer solutions. Civil society organisations are the "third sector", ensuring the link between citizens and government and working as a counterbalance to the business sector.

In 2008, the European Commission's Directorate for Research Science, through its Science in Society Programme, held a seminar on the role of civil society organisations wimin research. The European Commission defines civil society organisation as "notfor-profit non-governmental organisations operating in the public interest" ( 1 ) . They usually have a legal form, bring together people to act towards a shared goal and can include organisations concerned with advocacy, membership, public interest, service providers and professional organisations.The strength of civil society organisations is their variety of representing groups, interests and opinions. Civil society organisations hold values and principles of: work to the benefit of society, openness, accountability, tolerance, independent opinion, and a critical position. …

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