In an era of uncertainty regarding the future of the traditional European welfare state – with globalization and deep, structural demographic change playing major roles – and amidst a “crisis” of representative democracy, we witness both a growing number of citizens taking action in the public sphere, and the emergence of political discourses aimed at stimulating “active citizenship”. Community or citizens’ initiatives (CIs) are increasingly being seen as potential alternatives for state-provided public goods and services. CIs are collective activities aimed at providing local public goods or services. They are initiated by citizens who define their goals and how to achieve them, and they take the lead in the implementation of the projects, regardless of their arrangements (or lack thereof) with governmental institutions, companies, or both.
This research aims at understanding the potential and limitations of CIs, the new institutional arrangements between CIs and traditional governmental institutions, and how can CIs contribute to shaping more sustainable places. A comparative study will be conducted in order to understand the similarities and differences among three European countries – the Netherlands, the UK, and Portugal – with different institutional designs, cultural issues, and economic and social challenges. Nine CIs across three sectors – clean energy production, cultural economy, and landscape preservation – will constitute the case studies of this research. Semi-structured interviews with multiple actors involved in each of the case studies (e.g. representatives from CIs, institutions, other partners/stakeholders) will be conducted, along with participatory and non-participatory observation, and analysis of secondary materials.
Key words: community initiatives, self-governance, place-based initiatives, citizens’ initiatives, collaborative governance.